Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Short Story: "Melbourn's Storm"

This WIP is down. In September 2012, Lore magazine will publish a much better version of "Melbourn's Storm." As such, any version of the story is unavailable except through them.

On Grants: Why Does Southwestern College's Board and Administration Hate Free Money?

I call this: Even More Entertainment From Your Governing Board Meeting. (I think this deserves its own post.) One of the absolute highlights of the December (show) meeting was when first-year adjunct professor Ramin Moshiri spoke up during “oral communication” to ask the Board and the administration why they didn’t want the school to have any money.

Professor Moshiri then produced a short stack of papers that outlined a list of grants that Southwestern College is available to apply for. Two of those four grants award a total average of $23.5 million to eligible applicants; the other two are still new, but were offering a piece of an $80 million dollar pie for 70 different community colleges.

He then pointed out it didn’t take him long to research these grants; what the hold-up was, was the administration. He told the Board that he had visited office after office, building after building, and no one would take the slightest bit of responsibility for this information. This information, gathered by one of the school’s professors, offered a chance at free money to the school, but no one in power would take it – or even tell him where he should go.

(Where is the school’s grant writer, you ask? Where is that person who should have snatched away that paper and run, cheering, to their office to get that free money?

Why, SWC doesn’t have one. That was apparently one of those positions that Raj Chopra thought was unnecessary. Yes, in the middle of what he claims is the fiscal equivalent of the Apocalypse – and has fooled trustees Salcido, Valladolid, and Roesch into believing – he’s elected to go without a grant writer.)

Professor Moshiri then told them that the administration’s attitude reminded him of the big-spending days of the ‘70s – “when people would just ignore a quarter lying on the ground,” he said. He then dropped his stack of grant research to the carpet and informed them that they were doing the same thing.

Folks need to face the facts: Salcido, Valladolid, Roesch, and Chopra have no interest in saving the college, in seeking out moneys and opportunities, in considering other options. No, what they want are the classes cut. That they’ve got. It’s clear that certain members of the administration want to punish certain members of the faculty, too, and they’re willing to destroy SWC to do it.

They’ve got to go.

Two last completely unimportant points: the first is that, at the end of the Board meeting, when the trustees could request more information or further research, none of those three Board members thought that Professor Moshiri’s work was important enough to request. It took Jorge Dominguez to compliment the professor on his work, and request that someone get started on pursuing these grants.*

The last point is one of those little moments of irony I love so much. New veep Nick Alioto, who apparently has been unable to find a single thin dime to help keep the school from cutting classes, and apparently also thought that a grant writer was unnecessary used to find money for schools for a living at at least two public school districts in Wisconsin. His last gig was so successful that he apparently resigned his admin job, got himself hired back as a “consultant,” and made well over a million dollars “finding” money for the school – and earning himself a fat 25% fee doing so.

According to Professor Moshiri, it’s not that hard to find money available for the school. It’s just that this Board and the current administration can’t do it. Is anyone really going to be surprised if Alioto tries to work himself a cushy little deal sometime down the road, and suddenly is able to find money and grants that he’d never thought of before?

At a fat 25% commission, of course.

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*It’s probably because of that radical, free-thinking, rank-breaking, on-the-bench activism that caused Salcido, Valladolid, and Roesch to alienate him and begin to construct their Empire without him.


Grant Options Presented by Professor Ramin Moshiri

Health Information Technology Extension Program (cycle 2) - $1-$30 Million ($8.5 Million average)

Objective: this program provides grants for the establishment of Health Information Technology Regional Extension Centers that will offer technical assistance, guidance, and information on best practices to support and accelerate health care providers’ efforts to become meaningful users of Electronic Health Records (EHRs).

Application Deadline: Cycle 2: Preliminary Applications – Dec. 22, 2009; Full Applications – Jan. 29, 2010

Beacon Community Cooperative Agreement Program - $10-$20 Million ($15 Million average)

Objective: this program will provide funding to communities to build and strengthen their health information technology (health IT) infrastructure and exchange capabilities to demonstrate the vision of meaningful health IT.

Application Deadline: Feb. 1, 2010 (Letter of Intent due Jan. 8, 2010)

Community College Consortia to Educate Health IT Professionals - $70 Million (for 70 Community Colleges)

Objective: this program seeks to rapidly create health IT education and training programs at Community Colleges, or expand existing programs. Community colleges funded under this initiative will establish intensive, non-degree training programs that can be completed in six months or less.

Application Deadline: Jan. 22, 2010

Curriculum Development Centers - $10 Million (for 70 Community Colleges)

Objective: this funding opportunity, one component of the workforce program, will provide $10 million in grants to institutions of higher education (or consortia thereof) to support health IT curriculum development.

Application Deadline: Jan. 14, 2010 (Letter of Intent due Jan. 4, 2010)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A New Blog to Visit: Southwestern College Board Must Go - The Recall Petition Blog

There’s a new blog up that should be of interest to folks in the Southwestern College district: http://swcboardmustgo.blogspot.com/. This is the Recall blog, the online headquarters for the recall petition drive. Please stop by and bookmark this site. It has just very recently gone up, and has only one post so far, a short explanation about why the recall of board members Yolanda Salcido, Terry Valladolid, and Jean Roesch is necessary to the continued future of Southwestern College.

I have been assured that more will be up very soon, and they are planning on using the blog as a way of keeping the public involved in the petition drive.

They’re still getting everything together, adding all the bells-and-whistles, so I suggest if you have a question, leave it as a comment on the first post. I will be shamelessly flogging that site for the duration of the signature-gathering period, so get used to seeing the links. The Recall is necessary!

Edit: Do you want to sign a petition, and haven't had the chance to voice your displeasure at Salcido, Valladolid, and/or Roesch? I'll be at the Trader Joe's in Eastlake tomorrow from 11 a.m. until sometime in the afternoon. Come by, say "hi!," sign a petition or three. You have to live in the district to do so - and I'm told that is basically the entire South Bay region plus Coronado. I'll have the exact borders in mind before tomorrow.

(And, yes, if you're thinking I'll be taking notes about this - and about the people that show up - for an upcoming blog post, you'd be right.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Drama, Comedy, Tragedy! A Night at Southwestern College's Board Meeting: Now That's Entertainment!

Since I’ve started attending the Southwestern College Governing Board meetings, I’ve discovered that these things are the best entertainment value to be had in the South Bay. Besides watching the campus police watching for a riot to break out, you can listen as members of the faculty, student body, and the public line up to fire broadside after broadside at the mostly-clueless Board. Or sometimes, like Wednesday’s mellow meeting, you can sit and listen as the Board runs itself into the ground.

Any psychology or sociology professor worth his or her salt would have a heyday using the Board meeting as a paragon of group dynamics gone horribly awry.

The December meeting was Election Night! for the Board, when the five trustees elect – among themselves – their Board President and Vice-President. They also appoint the current school superintendent, Raj K. Chopra, as the standing secretary. Since Southwestern College’s inception, there has been a customary ‘chain of succession,’ which would have elevated trustee Jorge Dominguez to the position of Board President.

That didn’t happen.

In a 3-2 push, Yolanda Salcido was elected president over Trustee Dominguez, and Terri Valladolid was elected vice-president – also over Dominguez (who was nominated both times by Nick Aguilar). Exiting president, Jean Roesch, supported both Salcido and Valladolid.

Why is this such a big deal? Since SWC’s beginning, this custom has been followed, up until this year. Salcido, in defending her right to be Board President, remarked that they needed strong leadership in times of such a fiscal crisis.*

The Governing Board has ascended all manners of buffoons and scoundrels to the board presidency, but when given a chance to elect one who is both qualified and a long-time educator, they chose not to – and instead went with someone without any sort of education background.

It’s an insult, and Dominguez admitted as much. He also let it be known that he would not run for a Board position, which leaves one seat open. It bears repeating – loudly – that these three members of the Board – Salcido, Valladolid, and Roesch – have succeeded in alienating a member of the board who usually votes with them, and that includes on issues regarding Raj Chopra and the school’s budget. Are they so short-sighted that they no longer think they need as much support as they can get?

Or is it something worse? Personally, I ascribe it to empire-building. I believe that these three board members are trying to carve themselves a little fiefdom at the top of Southwestern College. With three votes in lockstep, there is no way for any other member of the Board to challenge them.**

These three support Raj Chopra at every opportunity; support the class cuts, laid-off professors, and tossed-aside students; and, up until Valladolid’s ill-considered “open forums,” have basically ignored every criticism leveled at them. Valladolid also is the one who, during the October GB meeting, dismissed the layoffs of the adjunct faculty as not really layoffs – a fact that has personally offended many folks who heard it (and heard about it).

At this last meeting, she angrily made a comment about certain members of the Board being “unfairly targeted” by certain members of the community (the Recall Petition) – “the women.” The mind reels at her inability to see that the Recall Petition has everything to do with breaking up this up-and-coming empire and nothing to do with their gender.

Furthermore, Raj Chopra revealed himself to be an obstructionist non-pareil this month. When challenged by Trustee Aguilar on why Chopra hadn’t added one of Aguilar’s requested items to the agenda, Chopra dismissed him by saying he was the only one interested in it, and he didn’t find it necessary. Consider the fact that the items Nick Aguilar is trying to get on the agenda include putting GB meetings on streaming video; trying to make sure contractors, consultants, and the like aren’t given nepotistic positions at the college; and asking that the Board finally begin the process of evaluating Raj Chopra. The gatekeeper for actually getting something on the agenda is Chopra himself, who has simply decided not to add any of these to the agenda – in effect, he controls what is discussed, and if he doesn’t want it there, tough.***

In addition to all the above comedy, tragedy raised its ugly head as well. Union leader Phil Lopez had to steal away a few minutes again during the open “oral communication” part to give his report, and it should have been shocking.

Not to anyone who pays attention to all this, but to the Board, it should have been.

Using figures provided by the administration itself and a smattering of math that most of us learned in fifth grade, he was able to demonstrate that, not only was the school not in the worst financial position it had ever been in, but it had made a profit last year (when it was projected to lose millions of dollars), and was on track to make a profit this year, too.

That was before the class cuts and laid-off professors. He provided them with visual aids, and used very small words so the Board could understand, and when his time was up, he took his seat. At the very end of the meeting, after most of the drama had come and gone, and the Board had an opportunity to “request further information,” they failed to do so. Apparently the fact that the school isn’t in as bad a fiscal state as they were afraid isn’t good news to some of them.

To Salcido, Valladolid, and Roesch, it’s very bad news. Salcido claimed her Right of Presidency based on the financial crisis. Their entire empire is built on the idea that the school needs them – and only them – to guide it through these tough times. If the times aren’t so tough, then these three are attempting to build their castle on a foundation of shifty sand.

----------------------------------------------------

*Yeah, we’ll get to that line of horse poo soon.

**Unless, of course, somehow some folks manage to vote them out of office. That would be the Recall Petition people. We’ll get to that in a coming post.

***Yes, you read it right. If he doesn’t want it discussed, he just leaves it off the agenda. By my count, he admitted to doing that exactly as many times as Nick Aguilar asked why his requested items weren’t on the agenda.

Student Leader Films Part of Southwestern College Governing Board Meeting - World Does Not End

Southwestern College student Veronica Golenia - one of those who have taken an active role in standing up to the administration and its constant appalling decisions - took a big step forward this week, doing something that the Governing Board has been too terrified to do: she filmed their meeting.

Please, please, please visit the Save Our SWC blog to watch quite a bit of the "oral communication" portion - that bit where the public speaks out. This one is much more mellow than last month's, but those that did speak really shined.

For those who haven't yet gone to the other blog, let me add that trustee Nick Aguilar has asked repeatedly - and been ignored, bulldozed, and buffaloed - to simply discuss putting the GB meetings on streaming video. They ignore the suggestion with a vehemence normally given towards discussions about the Apocalypse, the Mayan Calendar, and Armageddon itself. Clearly the Board doesn't want its work out there.

I suspect that the Board is used to operating in its quiet, obfuscatory manner, and knows that if the public can easily see how they spin and ignore the truth, and justify the administration's incompetence, then people might just think that someone else could do their jobs better than they can.

Let's hear it for this student leader, taking the first step toward proving them right.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Southwestern College Administration Now Attacks Freedom of the Press

Apparently unsatisfied with their attacks on America’s Freedoms of Speech and Assembly, the Southwestern College administration has taken aim at undermining the Freedom of the Press.

Just before last night’s Governing Board meeting, several different people informed me that less than half an hour earlier, the college administration had decided to handicap one of its prestige programs by refusing to fund the requested printing budget for its nationally-recognized newspaper, the Southwestern College Sun.

In some cases this could be an understandable decision, particularly in times of financial distress. That simply isn’t the case here.

For nine consecutive years, the Sun has been awarded the Pacesetter and General Excellence awards, the top awards given by the Journalism Association of Community Colleges (JACC) – the top community college journalism organization in the country. In addition, this year all five of the top college and university media organizations – which also include the Associated College Press, Columbia Scholastic Press, American Scholastic Press Association, and the National Newspaper Association – awarded the Sun their highest awards. Also this year, individual journalists won awards on a national level from the Society of Professional Journalists, and on a local level from the San Diego SPJ, San Diego Press Club, and the San Diego County Fair Media Competition.

This is about an average year for the Sun. This is no scrubby little rag we’re talking about.

Starting publication in 1963 – at the dawn of SWC itself – the Sun is truly one of the best-respected and recognized college newspapers in the country, and is one of the school’s flagship programs; one of those programs that drives students to the school.*

Why would the administration want to attack and cripple such a prestigious program, you ask? Because the Sun has come down, again and again, in opposition to President Raj K. Chopra. This fall, they covered the student rally that Chopra has attempted to spin as a “riot” and refused to fall into the administration’s line. They refused to turn over photos of the event when the campus police came out and demanded they do so. They have done proper journalistic due diligence and have watchdogged this shameful administration.

So, though I’m not terribly surprised that the administration has decided to attack the Sun, I am surprised that they have done so in such an obvious, buffoonish fashion. The fact that clearly none of them realized that they have hit a unique trifecta – stomping on the freedoms of Speech, Assembly, and now the Press – only further proves how absolutely out of touch with reality this administration is.

Check out the Southwestern College Sun online edition here.

*And in mentioning the Sun, I’m not attempting to detract from its talented musical performers and teams, or its debate team, which is another one of SWC’s proud flagship programs.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Hey, Man...Where You Been?"

"Dude, my head is killing me." It even hurt to talk on the phone.
"The migraines are back?"
"Yeah," I said. "They're coming in clusters right now. I think allergies are triggering them."
"Allergies? Don't you live in California? Do they even have pollen there?"
"It comes in from Montana on the wind, I'm told."
"When did you start getting allergies?"
"Like two years ago, man." I blew my nose to make a point. I saw stars behind my eyeballs.
"Wow, aren't you like seriously middle-aged? What are you doing getting allergies?"
"It's not a lifestyle choice, moron."
"I'm sorry, Nick, I couldn't hear you over the sounds of violins playing a sad, sad song."
"You know I've never liked you, right?"
"Yeah, I know. You're not that subtle. What do your migraines feel like?"
"You remember Escape from New York - that bad, bad Kurt Russell movie?"
"'Kurt Russell is Snake Plissken!' "You're the Duke of New York! You're A-number-1!""
"That's the one."
"I remember."
"You remember the scene where the guys are fighting with baseball bats with nails and spikes hammered through them?"
"Yeah!"
"Imagine one of those smashing you in the face with no warning."
"Ouch."
"Yeah. That's what my head feels like."
"All the time?"
"No. Just most of the time. The rest of the time, the allergies have got me laid up. Of the roughly 12 hours a week that my head is not screwed up one way or another, I'm trying to get everything else done."
"Oh, I get it. So besides allergies and migraines, there is real-life intrusion into your online life?"
"That's it."
"You realize this is a really dumb way of telling people, right?"
"I thought it was pretty subtle. Instead of just apologizing for being unable to function like a human for over a week now, I thought I'd do this."
"Yeah, you're not very good at subtle."
"I really have never liked you."
"I never liked you either."
"I'm used to it. And since you're a figment of my imagination, why don't you hop back over to the Annex and leave me alone?"
"You realize you're neglecting us over there, too."
"Great. More pressure. Just what I needed." I shake a couple more Excedrin out of the bottle.
"That ain't pressure. That's allergies."
I hang up.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Note to the Parents of Southwestern College Students (Something to Think About Over the Thanksgiving Weekend)

This is addressed solely to those people who have children attending Southwestern College. I know some of you read this regularly. I also know some of your kids will make you read it (at least this one post).

...Sorry about that.

In the past few weeks, I've had a couple of conversations with parents who have children going to school there. In each case, the parents say they know their students have told them about the troubles at the school. But they've also heard - usually by reading the San Diego Union-Tribune, it must be noted - that President Raj K. Chopra denies these charges levied against him by the students and faculty members.

Just this week, I spoke with a man who is a respected member of the community. He told me that his child had told him about President Chopra's continued attempts to quell free speech, and about the student protest that Chopra dishonestly referred to as a "riot" that was inspired by several members of the teaching staff.

This man (who is, yes, remaining nameless) reported that it is hard to justify what his child told him with what Dr. Chopra continues to say, again and again and again.

He didn't say why, but I suppose I can understand. It is in a child's nature to lie to his or her parents. "No, I didn't break the window. No, I didn't take the car out. Yes, I did my homework."

As such, it's in a parent's nature to take what a child tells them with a grain of salt.

On the other hand, one expects people in authority to be honest. We expect that the president of the college the child attends to be honest. We need him to be honest.

Your son or daughter has likely told you that the students held a rally to protest budget cuts, and then decided to march on the president's office to be heard. They will tell you they (the students) met the police, spoke with them, and after half an hour or so, went their own way. No one was arrested, no one was harmed, and no one assaulted anyone in uniform.

Raj Chopra has said that members of the teaching staff incited a riot, by going on the microphone and urging the students to march. He has said that his students followed the professors, attacked the police, and threatened the safety of all and sundry on the campus. In fact, here he states (and I quote): "Then there was a faculty member who went on the microphone and said they should march with the students and incited them."

Parents, understand, that is not true.

Again, as I have said here and here, and in other places, I was present at the students' protest, and at the administration building when the police stopped the march. At no point did the professors incite the students to do anything, and at no point was there a riot.

I am no young student. I am a middle-aged man likely older than many of you parents reading this. I know some of you have wondered if what your children have told you is true, and I know that many of you assume that if the college president says it, it must be true.

Please stop. Raj Chopra has been dishonest about this situation from the beginning, and now he has no choice but to continue to do so. He has to continue to call this a riot, and to blame the professors, because if he admits to any of it being a lie, then his entire house of cards tumbles. He has more to lose than anyone - his position, his power, his pension, and his local prestige. Of course he'll do anything to keep that.

As SWC president, he has a voice in the media that no one else has. He is able to simply make a statement and to some members of the press (the Union-Tribune, for instance), it is true. For some readers, because it's in print, it's automatically true.

It's not. Listen to your children. They may likely tell you something different than the newspaper has. Listen. Because they're right.

Just a Few Things I'm Thankful For...

I'm going to keep this simple. In the United States, it's an often-overdone custom that we spend the Thanksgiving holiday being thankful for things and people close to us.

Though I often sneer at such remedial sentimentality, I am of a mindset this year to participate. I pledge to you that I shall not engage in mawkish silliness, or purposeful heartstring-tugging. No, I'll keep it simple, keep it honest, and keep it short. That last, to those of you who read this regularly, know that will be a blessing in and of itself.

I'm thankful to my family, my loved ones, my friends - both in real-life, and here. I see no reason to say more. They know how I feel. I'm thankful that I've had a chance to know, and like or love other friends and family who have passed on.

I'm thankful for the members of my writers' group, who have given me praise when I deserved it, and smacked me around when I needed it. I'm thankful for those of you who have done the same here and on the Annex.

I'm thankful for the faculty and students of Southwestern College, who continue to stand up to a a dishonest, shameless administration. I'm also thankful for their parents who have joined the fight, the members of the public who are standing up to be heard, and for political movers-and-shakers who are disgusted with that whole lot on the Board, and in the President's office.

I'm thankful we live in a country that is, despite the best interest of certain conservative special-interest groups, is beginning to tolerate those that are different; is starting to respect those with intelligence and education; and is attempting to regain its respected place on the world's stage.

I'm thankful that we live in a country where I can say these things whenever I want, and outside of a few psychotic right-wing nut jobs, no one gets angry at me for saying it.

I'm thankful we live in a world full of miracles, where we can communicate with each other across long distances, and read each others' silly thoughts and ideas.

Thank you. Thank you, all of you.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Coming Soon: Rallies, Protests, and Board Meetings! (Southwestern College)

Consider this space a short "Coming Soon" notice, because that's what it is. I have chosen to wait to do a combined post on last week's faculty free speech rally, this week's students' silent protest, and last night's Governing Board meeting.

I was unable to attend the silent protest, and would like to use a photo or two here. Of course, I'm happy to give all photo credits and a big thank you! for the use. And because I actually participated last night, I was unable to detach myself enough to take any photos then. I'd like to use a few good photos of the Governing Board meeting, too, if anyone has any I could use and/or link to.

Leave a comment, or send me an email - nickolasfurr (at) yahoo (dot) com, if you have photos I might use. It will probably be Friday before this post is removed and replaced by the next one. Thanks, y'all!

EDIT/APOLOGY:

My brain has melted this weekend. I'm fighting a nasty cold, and haven't been able to update. I will as soon as I'm able to. I still would like a good photo or three from the the GB meeting, but I do have a couple of shots from the silent protest.

I haven't forgotten. I just haven't been able to get to it yet. But I will.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chopra Returns! Just in Time for the New Governing Board Meeting at Southwestern College

Tonight's the night, folks. Starting at 7 p.m. on the campus of Southwestern College in Chula Vista, the public, students, and faculty will get to speak.

President Raj K. Chopra has finally returned from that very long vacation he needed after suspending four professors, and I'm guessing he's feeling rested, tanned, and ready to hear what we have to say.

I suggest we give it to him.

This Governing Board meeting will be held in Cafeteria East. Pressure from the public, the students, the faculty, the press -- pretty much from everywhere -- forced Chopra to move this meeting from its usual location to the cafeteria. This means that no one should be forced to stand outside in the cold again.

If you want to speak, show up before 7:00 and fill out one of the "yellow cards." They're available as you go inside. Fill in your name and city, and you can speak to the Governing Board for up to three minutes. You don't have to speak that long, but that is the most you can speak.

This is your chance to be heard, people! Seize it! If you're an angry or frustrated parent, a student who's being forced out, a member of the public with questions or concerns, or even a business leader who just wants to know what the heck is going on over there (which we're hearing a lot of you do), come out and be heard.

The press will be there. This is likely to be big. You want to be here tonight. I suspect that if someone needs translation into Spanish, that can be found.

It is time to start taking back this school from this current administration. And it's time the Board takes some responsibility for putting this shameful leadership in place.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Frustrated Southwestern College Student Speaks to the Administration

Last night, I received the following from an SWC student. Frustrated at the current administration, “they” explained that they feel that the students’ voices have been ignored by the administration and the Board through all that has gone on. The student, going by the name of “SOSWC Student Blogger,” has no connection with the Save Our SWC blog, and has asked for a chance to be heard.

I’m all for it. The bottom line is: President Raj K. Chopra has made a very bad choice in his decision to cut classes. Southwestern College will lose many professors, and it will probably lose thousands of students. I’m delighted that so many of these affected students have become involved in the protests and rallies, and I’m happy to provide a bit of online real estate for them to be heard.

I’ve formatted this to fit the blog, but I have changed no content. The letter’s words are the words of the student, not mine.

Letter begins:

“October 22, 2009 will be the day that changed the community of Southwestern College forever. Most students and faculty gathered around this so called “free speech” zone to voice their concerns on recent budget cuts and staff layoffs. As one courageous student stood out and spoke, “let’s take it to where they can hear us,” students and faculty were marching to President Chopra’s office to meet face to face with him, so they thought. Students were confronted by a blockade of SWC police officers, as a crowd of onlookers from the side watched. After the crowd of students dispersed about a half hour after the rally was supposed to be over, the war on education began. This is certainly a “slap in the face” for all who were affected by the administration’s move to suspend the “SWC Three” the day after the rally took place. It personally affected me in more ways than one.

I would like to take a moment and say the following to all the members of the Governing Board, the administration, and especially to President Chopra:

‘Why did you have to make matters worse by threatening the “SWC Three” with criminal charges, when it shouldn’t have been done in the first place? Why did it have to be until three weeks later that we hear that the charges are being dropped, especially in the form of a letter that was sent an hour before the Free Speech Rally? Was this an attempt from you to have us cancel the rally? I say that sending that letter was a cowardly move. We would all like to hear a public apology, especially from you, President Chopra. It was unfair, unjust, and flat out wrong what you did, and you know that. Until then, we the students and faculty of SWC will not give up…until our voices finally reach you and you decide to answer us…’

SWC is the starting point of abolishing unconstitutional free speech areas in community colleges and universities in the state of California and around the nation. This goal cannot be reached alone. Together, students, faculty, and community members can step up and make a difference.

--SOSWC Student Blogger

P.S. To all the students out there supporting this cause: You guys are doing a fantastic job. With brilliant minds and kind hearts, we can fight this war and win it! Keep it up, and if all else fails, ‘try and try again.’”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What is Southwestern College's Reserve Fund? (The Economics of Accreditation, the Surplus, and the Bond Rating)

Like the Nick Alioto piece, this came from some of my comments in the comments section. I think the questions are big enough to warrant consideration. Call it hubris if you will, but I haven't heard anyone else asking them. I'm going to call it "watchdogging."

Accreditation in Jeopardy?

In February, WASC (the Western Association of Schools and Colleges – Accrediting Commission for Schools) will present its findings regarding Southwestern College. This will be one month after the school begins its new Chopra-created shorted schedule.

Among their initial findings were these (and I'm quoting here from SWC's Exit Interview Transcript of October 8, 2009 - written by Dr. Gari Browning/Superintendent of Ohone College, and WASC Team Chair):

"The Team recommends that the college set as a priority fostering an environment of trust and respect for all employees and students." (This was not part of another bullet point; it was one entire point on its own.)

How well can this administration’s agenda of fear reflect on WASC's decision? Chopra or his sidekick, Nick Alioto, has apparently finished their "investigation" and placed official Letters of Reprimand in the files of those professors the administration is trying to railroad! Students are saying they've been told they're not allowed to complain about the administrations' actions. The community is starting to realize how divisive these actions are. WASC quite rightly said that the college should move in the opposite direction - engendering trust among its faculty and students, the very people who are being turned out into the cold.

"The Team further recommends that the college establish and follow a written process for providing faculty, staff, administrators, and students, a substantial voice in decision making processes."

Do I need to mention again the fact that these unilateral budget cuts weren't even allowed to be discussed? The Board rubber-stamped Chopra's budget and refused to even allow Board member Nick Aguilar's motion to simply discuss other options in an emergency meeting. There is no one besides the upper administration that thinks they have a voice in the process. They don't. That has been made clear.

There are other recommendations, but these are two that directly impact how WASC perceives Southwestern College.

It would be ludicrous to think that WASC is unaware of the actions of FIRE and the ACLU, the frequent negative (to the administration) news coverage, and yes, the constant buzz about the blogosphere. Can anyone take seriously the idea that this can't affect SWC's accreditation process?

It can, and it would fall hard at the feet of an administration that has created an atmosphere of fear and disenfranchised the very people that WASC thinks must be included in the decision-making process.

The Bond Rating: Why is This More Important Than Classes?

At the last Board meeting, the vice-president, Yolanda Salcido, said that the college's 11.5 million-dollar 'reserve' needed to be left intact, "to help maintain their bond rating." (And, yeah, that's a quote.)

Leaving aside for a moment the concept that a school's administration and Board should tear apart their own schedule, disenfranchise their faculty, and kick an unknown number of students to the curb, just to make themselves more attractive for possible future investors, there is a question of economic fact.

Standard & Poor's has given Southwestern College a rating of AA- (Double A minus), which is pretty damn good, and keeps them in the top bracket of performance. But, after doing some research, I've found some facts of interest.The amount of money in the bank counts very little toward how a rating agency (like S&P) grades the bonds. You know what's more important? The quality of education, the diversity of adjunct faculty, the diversity of students, and a well-balanced selection of classes all weigh more to the rating agencies.

To recap: to keep from spending less than $2M out of $11.5M in the bank, the Board would rather lower its quality of education (point 1), by cutting hundreds of classes - both electives and core (point 4); in doing so, laying off (or "not bringing back" in SWC parlance) about half its adjunct faculty (point 2), and forcing an undefined number of student - but surely in the few thousands - to give up their education or go somewhere else (point 3).

All to 'keep that money in the bank to look good' - which is not nearly as important to the rating agencies!

To me, this appears to be the short-sighted nature of this administration and its Governing Board - to take the 'easy' way out, and do it on the backs of the students and faculty, all so they can make the school look better to those possible future investors.

You have to ask: why does this matter more than the student's education? Does this focus on the financial risks of the investors (not the school) mean that they have ignored the school's focus: to educate those students of the South Bay area?

I'll be the first to admit that I could have this wrong. If someone out there with a background in Economics could let me know how I got it wrong, please do. I'd be delighted to hear it.

Okay…one last thing I forgot to point out.

According to Moody's (another rating agency), approximately 95% of all the public institutions that they rated received a grade of "A" or better.

(Moody's, Standard & Poor's, Fitch IBCA, and Duff & Phelps' all use equivalent "A" ratings. SWC's "AA-" is equivalent to Moody's "Aa3" - both of which refer to High-Quality, strong Investment Grade bonds.)

This reflects well on the school - pre-budget cuts. By undermining its own values as an educational institution, they'll have done more harm to the credit rating than spending less than $2 million - most of which would have gone back into the economy in and around Chula Vista.

But with about 19 in 20 public institutions being "Investment Grade" bonds or better, Yolanda Salcido's comment takes on a darker hue: is she unaware of how the bond rating is determined, or does she not care - and simply whipped it out as a handy reason hard to challenge on the spot?

So...why? Why was this reason given? Why would they rather keep this money in the bank than spend the profits of a few good years on one year when the school needs it?

The Board's driving goal should be to maintain the highest quality of education. Instead, it looks like their one goal is to protect a fat, fat bank account.

Is Southwestern College's Nick Alioto Racine USD's Nick Alioto?

Nick Alioto is the current Vice-President of Business and Finance at Southwestern College, and the guy calling the shots now that Raj K. Chopra is "on vacation." Just a couple of years ago, a chap named Nick Alioto made a lot of news in Wisconsin for some business dealings with the Racine Unified School District.

Were they the same people? This question came up in the comments on my recent ACLU piece. It interested me, and I did a little digging. I posted my thoughts in comments, but decided they were worth putting here instead. (I've modified my own answer in a few places to better suit the format.)

I don't think that they can be the same person. Wisconsin's Nick Alioto was a financial genius able to save Racine USD somewhere between $15 and $18 million dollars in the first six months that his company - Public Business Consulting Group (PBCG) - went to work. They painstakingly sought out "savings" that no one else had ever considered*, transferred money from one fund to another**, and implemented energy savings programs.***

That Nick Alioto was so successful that his company made an estimated $1.8 million is less than two years - based upon an agreed-upon pay rate of 20% of all found savings****. That Nick Alioto almost forced the Racine USD to pay a multi-million dollar penalty from breaking a contract with PBCG, but still collected a $750,000 settlement when the district insisted on parting ways.

Southwestern College's Nick Alioto clearly isn't that guy. Knowing that this question must come up, our Nick Alioto is the guy who arrived at the last Governing Board meeting unable to narrow down the amount of budget shortfall any more than, "somewhere between 1.3 and 1.7 million dollars." Our Nick Alioto is the guy unable to divine any way of saving the college's big fat bank account, short of putting faculty and students on the street.

Nope. There's no way this is the same guy.

--------------------------------------------

*Stuff that almost every other Wisconsin public school district had been doing for decades.

**A shell game that meant that taxpayers paid more for those savings, and then paid PBCG its percentage for the privilege of getting ripped off.

***Claiming money saved on hypothetical situations.

****Twenty-five percent.

--------------------------------------------

Seriously, you need more proof these can't be the same guy? These these links:

JSOnline (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) - "Firm Overbills Racine Schools"

JSOnline - "Director Left Last District in the Hole"

FoxPolitics.Net - "Racine: The Tragedy of Smoke and Mirrors Savings"

Real Debate Wisconsin - "An Interesting Story About PBCG Head Nick Alioto"

JSOnline - "District May Renegotiate With Consulting Firm"

LawyersAndSettlements.com - Settlement Details

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

ACLU Weighs in Regarding Southwestern College

It's official; this is big. The ACLU has sent a letter to Southwestern College's president, Raj K. Chopra, the members of its governing board, the various vice-presidents, and even to the campus police chief. In that patented American Civil Liberties Union fashion, it fires a broadside at the administration - but in a very polite, very professional manner.

(Please visit the Save Our SWC blog for a summary of the letter, and for a link to the entire thing. I haven't figured out how to link to PDF's yet, so I'm going to let them do it.)

I'll admit, I'm feeling pretty prescient - a few posts ago, I commented that have FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) take you to task was one short step to having the ACLU get involved. (The actual comment is located here.)

I've decided to test it again. I think that, given the consistent bad press that they're getting from Higher Education's most respected publications - Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed; and because of the actions of FIRE and the ACLU; and because the Governing Board is trying to blame these budget cuts entirely on the government of the State of California, I predict that it won't be too much longer before the state's Attorney General's office gets involved.

So again I ask: What is wrong with this Board? Do they enjoy this? Have they completely abrogated their responsibility to keep the school and its students first in their priorities?

To me - and I suspect to many others, it appears that they have. The only communication they've made so far to anyone has been supportive of Raj Chopra's 'non-suspension' suspension of the professors. Will it take the involvement of the Attorney General for the Board to realize what a mistake they've made?

I'm guessing it won't be long until we find out.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Southwestern College Professors & Students March Again



Together with students of all ages, members of the faculty at Southwestern College took their protest to the public on Thursday. Literally walking a thin line (between the street and campus property - where they apparently were told they could not protest) for a few hours under the sun, the professors and their students worked together to call more attention to the budget cuts tearing the school apart.



During the march, some professors left to teach their classes. Other arrived only after their classes were dismissed. Students came and went, some taking extremely active roles.


With passersby honking and cheering their support, one of San Diego's alt-papers, City Beat, made its first appearance, as did Univision.



It goes without saying - but I'm saying it, that this isn't going to just fade away. In a just world, they wouldn't have had to go this far to support the education of the youth of the South Bay area.


It's a good thing that some members of the community actually care.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Let's Talk About This "Riot" at Southwestern College (An Open Letter to the DA's Office)



To Whom it Does Concern:

Two weeks ago, out of a desire to watch a bit of student activism at work, I went to Southwestern College in Chula Vista. Students were rallying to protest budget cuts. I went, took a few photos with my cell phone, and watched as the students decided to march on the president’s office. He wasn’t there; campus police stopped the students from getting near the office. I took a few more pictures. Three professors – at least one of whom wasn’t even present at the rally – spoke to the police, and were informed that no one would be allowed to pass into the administration area until they (campus police) decided.
Frustrated, the students chanted, asking President Chopra to come out. Not realizing that he wasn’t even present, they remained until another the Dean of Student Services, Mia McClellan, came out and told them they couldn’t be there. She opted not to tell them he wasn’t around. Had she done so, she could have short-circuited their anger quite neatly. She didn’t. Instead, she demanded they leave.

The professors had left the ‘conflict area’ before that, and only watched over their students from the back of the crowd. The only people near the police were students – and none of them did anything more than launch entirely-justifiable questions and complaints at Ms. McClellan.

Apparently fed up with those folks exercising their Right to Assemble, Ms. McClellan told them again to leave. She walked off, leaving it in the hands of the campus police. The police very calmly asked the students to leave – and most did. A few students stayed behind, asking “What would happen if…” and “Why can’t I…” questions. After another few minutes, the crowd drifted away, and even the police went their own way.

I was there. I arrived before at least one of the professors, and remained within a few feet of the police at all times. There was no riot; I saw no conflict.

Two days ago, the administration of the college apparently completed their “investigation” and referred their situation to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. They have asked the D.A. to file charges on three professors: SCEA President Phillip Lopez, Andrew Rempt, and Dinorah Guadiana-Costa.
The claim is that the professors:

1. Incited the students to move outside the “free speech area” and to violate SWC policies,

2. Ignored the warnings and directives of the campus police, and

3. Had physical confrontation with the police.

These are bogus charges. None of the professors ever had contact with the police. Had they, I doubt the police would have simply waved them away – which they did. When the police told them that they were not allowed into the administration area to do their jobs, the three of them left. There was frustration in their voices, yes, but I’d not even go so far as to call it anger. Hardly the behavior of police-assaulting rioters, is it?

Furthermore, I was also present at the rally. By happenstance, I was standing near the faculty when one of the students ran over and breathlessly informed them that they were going to march. The professors raised eyebrows and wondered aloud about this decision. A minute or two later, when the students began to march, a few of the faculty followed them – and some simply chose to walk on to their next class.

At no point did any member of the faculty incite this lawful action. The students of SWC chose to do so – and, personally, I applaud their decision to do so. But to claim that any member of the faculty beat the drum to start this action is ludicrous, dishonest, and wrong.

Lastly, I must point out that the SWC police peacefully met the students face-to-face. When one young female student held a sign up in front of one of the officers, he pulled it down and quite reasonably explained that she simply could not block his line of sight; it was unsafe for him to not be able to see. When she had follow-up questions, he patiently explained that his safety and the safety of his fellow officers must be paramount.

I agree with that; as, I suspect does most everyone else – including these professors whom the school has asked you to railroad. Don’t let this happen. Don’t give this administration – an administration which appears to be drifting from unremitting incompetence toward earnest corruption – another tool to attack its faculty. They get enough of that on a daily basis from President Raj K. Chopra.

If you need, I have more details, and I’m happy to put this on the record. My email is nickolasfurr (at) yahoo (dot) com. I thank you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Media Attention Continues to Shine on Southwestern College's Suspended Professors (And FIRE Opens Fire)

I’m back with more press coverage; I’m late, yes, but I’m back. I’m posting these to remind you that people are watching the ridiculous blow-up at Southwestern College. Though President Raj Chopra and his administration would love for this to disappear (a sentiment shared by the San Diego Union-Tribune, which has apparently reverted to its notorious anti-education screeds), it has not.

People are watching, they’re reading, they’re talking about it…and they’re taking action.

Newly Updated! Check below for information on new press and even coverage from the Huffington Post!

The protest march last Thursday attracted about as much attention as I had expected – all of it from television and radio, of course. (Visit here to visit earlier press & media links.)

KPBS – San Diego public radio (audio and print): "Local Professors Protest Budget Cuts to Higher Education."

KUSI – Television: "Students Protest Community College Budget Cuts."

KFMB – Television: "Protestors Rally in Balboa Park Against Cuts in Education."

And there’s more!

Inside Higher Ed weighs in with “When is a Suspension Not a Suspension?”

Student Activism continues to take a very active role:
"Lawful Free Expression" at Southwestern College."
"New Administration Statement on the Southwestern College Suspensions."
"Update: Southwestern College Suspensions."

The Chronicle of Higher Education keeps it on the radar with “Is Your ‘Fiscal Crisis’ Real?” This refers to SWC, but is about the whole of the situation.

La Prensa San Diego: the oldest, largest Mexican-American newspaper in San Diego County (and probably the second-most read newspaper of any kind) has been a long-time supporter of both President Chopra and the Board. However, even they question the misguided actions taken by the administration, following the student rally of late October: "Editorial: Southwestern College Community Wants Answers!"

SWC’s own newspaper, the Southwestern College Sun (http://www.southwesterncollegesun.com/), has unsurprisingly taken a pro-student, pro-faculty stance. In a lot of schools, this would mean nothing, but the Sun is actually regarded as one of the leading student newspapers in the country. (And so it should surprise no one that Chopra has attempted to disembowel it at every opportunity.)
“Students, Staff, Faculty Protest a ‘Culture of Fear.’’
“New ASO Looks for Hope During a ‘Brutal’ Year.”
“Unsigned: The Truths and Myths About Raj K. Chopra."

And now there’s this!

Just before I was about to post this, I received word that FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) sent a letter to Raj Chopra today. In essence, the letter rips him a new one. I’d love to quote from it, but you should read it here, in its entirety.

A link to FIRE's initial blog entry (and another link to the letter to Chopra), can be found here: "FIRE Intervenes in Case of Professors Suspended at California's Southwestern College for Assembly Outside the 'Free Speech Patio.'"

NEW!

FIRE's president, Greg Lukianoff, has gone so far as to strike out at President Chopra on one of the biggest, most influential political websites in the country, the Huffington Post. What does he have to say there?

Channel 10 (ABC) covers the situation with: "Criminal Charges Possible for Professors' Role in Protest."

The Southwestern College Sun actually ran a special edition today, with a few new pieces:
"Faculty Union Members Banned"
"Faculty Four are Experienced Professors"
"Strong Voices, Deaf Ears"

Actions like these is usually what helps lead to further national attention. My question to the Board: How much longer are you willing to put up with the SWC’s shredded reputation among higher-education organs, all for the sake of keeping Raj K. Chopra in place? You have made a mistake. You know you’ve made a mistake. Admit the error. Agree to a special meeting ASAP to find different ways to handle this. If not, you’re letting the school – your charge – continue along a route of self-destruction, all piloted by a president who has become higher education’s biggest punchline.

Remember to visit Save Our SWC for the most current information. They’re on Twitter (as @saveourswc), and on Facebook. Follow the badge over there to become a friend.

Next Time: I was there, and what I saw.

EDIT: Added link to FIRE's website.
NEXT EDIT: Added Huffington Post/Channel 10/Sun information, and changed "An action like this..." to "Actions like these..."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Professors and Students Rally, March, and Protest in the Street


The teachers, students, press, and members of the public met in San Diego's Balboa Park on Thursday, to rally together to protest California's brutal budget cuts to education. Representing every teachers' and educators' union in San Diego County, they came together as one to make their voices heard.

When Southwestern College's union president, Phil Lopez, came up to speak to the crowd (that's him at the microphone), the faculty that was present joined him. "We're in this together," he told them. Because of the recent actions at the college (as written about on this blog, and now in many other places), the rally received them well.


Professors spoke, some with tears in their eyes, about the effects the slashed budget had on their schools, their classes, and their students. It goes without saying that none of it was positive.

After an hour or so, the educators and their students left Balboa Park, marching into downtown San Diego to the Federal Building - where Governor Schwarzenegger has his local office.

The marchers were boisterous and jubilant, inviting passersby to join them. At San Diego's City College, and one of the local high schools, some students did. Many professionals who watched them pass applauded and cheered them.
At the Federal Building, the marchers sat down in the street. They explained to those watching that if the cuts continue, then the students will be learning like that - in the street, teaching each other - with no buildings, no classrooms, no classes, and no one to teach them.


Member of the press crowded around to get photos, film, and interviews with the protestors:

No one came out of the Federal Building to speak with them. I doubt anyone expected them to. But the point was made to everyone watching, to everyone who saw it on the news, and to everyone who would hear about it on the radio, or read about it:
California is in fiscal crisis, yes, but the communities simply cannot balance the budget on the backs of the students. An under-educated generation is a generation allowed to fail.

These are teachers. Failure isn't what they're here for.



Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Southwestern College's Suspended Professors Receive Media & Press Attention (And It's Positive!)


So…after a few days of keeping this post at the top of the page, I decided to go ahead and update. Nothing had changed yet, and nothing likely will at least until after the rally tomorrow. But the pro-faculty movement is making great strides.

Local press that is notoriously… anti-faculty (and anti-education) has begun to weigh in – and are giving this a fair look. Oddly enough, local television has been a boon to the Southwestern College faculty – the exposure is growing much more through TV than through print.

The really good news comes from online, and from publications that focus on educators, schools and colleges, education, and faculty and students’ rights. This is getting major play on their sites – and these are the publications that Those Who Oversee Education in the country read. The Chronicle of Higher Education, generally regarded as the Wall Street Journal of education has weighed in, as has Inside Higher Ed, a vastly-influential news organ that took immediate interest. I’m not going to name everyone who’s done so, since you’ll find the links below.

Go to them, read them, and comment there - they would like to know what you have to say. Feel free to leave a comment here if you know of anyone I’ve missed – and I’m certain I have. Lastly, If anyone reading this knows any other media organization – whether it be television, print, radio, or online – please contact them and let them know. Let’s keep pushing this out there; the more light shines on this, the less chance that President Raj Chopra and the Board will have to hide.

And, hey! Remember, I'm not an educator or a professor. I'm not a student at Southwestern College. I'm not employed there in any way. So, the place you want to go if you want the most information is here: Save Our SWC. While you're at it, follow that blog on Twitter at @saveourswc.





KPBS (San Diego Public Radio/Televison) [print only]: "Four Southwestern College Professors Suspended."

San Diego Union-Tribune (daily): "4 Faculty at College Suspended After Rally."

Center for Campus Free Speech: "Suspended for Walking Across Campus?"

Confessions of a College Dean (from the blogs at Inside Higher Ed): "Power 101." (A college adminstrator gives his thoughts on the actions of Dr. Raj Chopra.)

Dissent the Blog: "Curious Suspensions." (Contains much on the history of the administration's troubles at Southwestern College.

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE): "Community College in California Suspends Four Professors Without Explanation Following Peaceful Protest." (Notes that FIRE is beginning an investigation into this.)


Minding the Campus: "Free Speech Woes." (SWC is included with several schools having this same problem.)



The New Faculty Majority also weighed in, posting my original post (same link as in first paragraph) - along with the note that the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) had taken an interest in this case.

Some of these articles and posts - along with mine - have been picked up by many news, education, and business sites: All Business, More About Education, and NewsOnFeeds.com, to name only the first three I found on Google.

Don't forget to visit Save Our SWC for the most current information. They've got a Facebook page as well. They'd love it if you'd connect with them there.
UPDATE (November 3): For updated links to more media coverage, I've added this post.

Multi-School Rally at Balboa Park!

On Thursday afternoon, I’m going to join the faculty of several different colleges at a protest rally at Balboa Park in downtown San Diego. Of course, the goal is protesting ongoing budget cuts to California's educational institutions. If things go as they should, the rally should culminate with a march to the governor’s office. Assuming we can get all these teaching types to go in one direction, it just might work.

This event is sponsored by (and I’m taking this directly from the flyer): American Federation of Teachers, Local 1931, San Diego Education Association, BEAT, City College ASG, Save Our Schools, the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, University of California AFT, UPTE, Southwestern College Education Association CCA/CTA/NEA, the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, and Palomar Faculty Federation AFT Local 6161.

Students and the public are encouraged and asked to attend. If you want to know more, call 619-640-1155.

Edit - Added the second to last line - about the public and students.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Southwestern College Students Protest Class Cuts (And What the Administration Did Afterward)

On Thursday, October 22, students at Southwestern College in Chula Vista chose to protest against the unilateral actions of the school president and its Board. The protest was civil and held in the fifty yard-by-fifty yard zone that the school calls its "Free Speech Area."





It should also be noted that the Free Speech Area is hidden away between several buildings and is invisible to any road, parking lot, or driveway that surrounds the campus. To a member of the voting public - such as myself - who showed up to watch the students, it was difficult to find. I, like others, had to park and wander the campus until we found it.





For the last Board meeting, President Chopra refused to move the venue from the tiny room it usually used to the auditorium it regularly uses when it expects a big crowd. He knew that students, professors, members of the public, and the press were coming to express their displeasure at his budget-slashing plans, so more than one hundred people – like me – stood outside and listened to the meeting on little speakers, while police guarded the doors. So it comes as no surprise that he is using locational tactics to try to suppress his opposition again.


The students had one hour to express their disgust and displeasure, and to try to rally support among their peers. They used it. And, at the end, they decided to march across campus to the president's office to be heard. Campus police intervened, and after a reminder that they had no rights at all on the campus, the students decided to do this again, and they dispersed.





President Raj Chopra's reaction? He suspended four professors, including the head of the faculty union, a man who has stood against him time and again, while always standing up for his fellow instructors. I suspect he was suspended last night more for that than for anything the students did yesterday.

A Very Brief History

The Administration's Story -- Faced with California's looming fiscal crisis, President Chopra formed a committee of faculty and administration to decide on budget-saving measures. Eventually it became clear that the only way to maintain operations was to cut classes. That would keep any instructor from being laid off, and wouldn't effect the students much at all.

The Truth -- The President formed a committee. Ostensibly scheduled by the admin, it never met until the very day of the most recent board meeting (one week ago). Absolutely nothing was decided, except for the admin representatives to let the faculty reps know what was going down. Many cost-saving measures were floated: cutting the maximum number of students in classes, instructors taking pay cuts, instructors taking unpaid furlough days, laying off unnecessary administrators, cutting athletics, and utilizing the school's "reserve funds."

Southwestern College has several million dollars in its reserve fund - also known as its "rainy-day fund." Over the past few years, the reserve fund has increased to 7% of its holdings. In other words, the school has made a profit the past few years. The State of California says that all colleges should have a reserve, but the amount they recommend is "not more than 5%."

That two percent overage in the rainy-day surplus equals about two million dollars. The budget shortage? An estimated $1.3 to $1.7 million. The overage in the surplus could sate the budget issues for the time, but the Board doesn't want to give up on that banked profit.

Furthermore, during the last Board meeting, the one member who puts students, faculty, and the South Bay area first - Nick Aguilar - put a motion on the table. It was not to stop the slashing of classes, but simply to consider some of these other options. The Board refused to even consider anything but slashing classes (which means laying off instructors). When it was pointed out that they actually would lose about fifty percent of their adjunct (non-full time) professors, one member - Maria Valledolid - responded, 'those are adjuncts, so it's not layoffs.'

President Chopra's proposal for budget-cutting involves slashing about 25% of all classes that SWC offers. Thousands of students attend school, and most of them realize that their schedule will be affected. Professors will be laid off. Classes will not be offered. Some students will not be able to graduate! But that fat 7% profit hidden away remains safe. This is what led them to protest.

Unilateral actions are never popular, and almost never warranted. These anti-faculty and anti-student decisions by Dr. Chopra are symptomatic of a weak leader and a rubber-stamping board.

Raj Chopra is a coward; he was off the campus for all this. He sent police to the four professors' home with letters informing them that they had been suspended (and how much did that cost taxpayers, Raj?). He insists that students hide their protests where the public can't see them. He hides the actions of himself and his Board in the tiniest room possible.

Sure, the students will suffer. Sure, the faculty will suffer. Sure, the reputation of the school will be irreparably damaged. Sure, the city of Chula Vista, and the South Bay area will suffer. But, hey! We'll have that profit banked, and that's apparently all that matters.

For more information on this, go to the Save Our Southwestern College blog at http://www.saveourswc.blogspot.com/. If you’re in Chula Vista/South Bay/San Diego, please follow @saveourswc for more updates.

It also appears that this is finally getting some attention from the local paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune (which is solidly in Raj’s pocket): http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/oct/23/bn23college-instructors-suspended/?dsq=20886274#comment-20886274


(Photo credits - me with the cell phone)

Edited to add the last two paragraphs, and to tweak the bit on the location of the last Board meeting.


UPDATE: It appears that the Union-Tribune has decided to take a slightly more even-handed look at this situation. This story, updated early this morning, finally begins to dig into the issues: http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/oct/24/4-faculty-college-suspended-after-rally/?education&zIndex=188347

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Short Story in the Annex!

Finally having a couple of days to write has been good. In the Annex, I've posted my first-ever "Heroes..." short story, "Melbourn's Storm."

Please feel free to check it out. As always, any feedback my kindly readers have to offer would be most graciously appreciated.

This is basically a first-draft with minimal editing, so be kind.

"Melbourn's Storm"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When Manners Met Grace (A Question of Culture)

Though it was a requirement of this last census job to have - and be able to use a car, I found myself using mass transit as much as possible. By and large, the mass transit system in greater San Diego doesn't entirely suck. The light-rail trolleys are pretty cool. The buses run very early to very late, some of the routes actually make sense, and for the most part the drivers run on time...

...Except for some Chula Vista-based jackasses who roar through stops about 5 minutes early. I'm looking at you, Route 712 guy. (I've called and complained several times. To their credit, all the dispatchers but one were pretty horrified by this. The other - clueless - one said, "well, at least he wasn't late!" No, he wasn't late, moron, he was too early for me to catch. Here's a quarter; buy a clue.)

I did a week of training and a week of prep in San Diego, with no fieldwork. I used the bus and trolley then. Because of the insanely talented crew I had, our fieldwork lasted a short period, and I went from "in the field" to mostly "in the office." Several of those days I came in by trolley and bus. I'd guess that about 40% of the back-and-forth travel I did was via mass transit.

I learned something that bothered me. I'm going to talk about it, even though I am certain I will be labeled a racist, or narrow-minded, or somesuch. I've thought about it, and frankly, this time....I don't care.

My trolley stop was only three stops away from the U.S.-Mexico border stop at San Ysidro. At any point in the morning, by the time I got on, most of the seats were taken, most of the cars were full, and people were straphanging and leaning on the bars. This doesn't phase me; I've ridden buses in most cities I've lived in. I've hanged on straps with the best and worst of them. But here, the worst of them seem to be in the seats.

As a Southern man, I was taught a few of the most important things in life: always say "yes, ma'am" and "no, ma'am"; hold the door open for others; don't cuss in church; and give up your seats to those who need it more than you.

This last one clearly isn't taught around here. Every morning I watched in disgust as young or middle-aged men sat in the trolley or bus seats, listening to their iPods, reading, texting, talking, or just staring ahead, while older women had to stand. I watched daily as hale-and-hearty guys of all ages rode in relative comfort while women balanced grocery bags, children, and schoolbags fought to keep their balance.

It should go without saying that I never once kept my seat if someone else needed it. On reflection, I realized that I'd actually ridden into town only once. Each other time I'd stood up the entire way - which isn't all that far.

Do I need spell out that almost all these women were Hispanic? Should I continue with the fact that most of the men too lazy to stand for them were also Hispanic? I will. I will also admit that there are a very few Hispanic men who will offer their seats to women - and all of them appear to be in their teens or early 20's.

The inaction of these men disgusts me; I won't deny it. Is this a cultural thing; is it expected that Hispanic men will sit while their women are forced to ride on their feet? Or is this a local San Diego-Tijuana concept?

I gave up my seat numerous times. Only once I can recall was it to a Caucasian woman, and only once to an African-American. In both cases, both ladies thanked me for the courtesy. Every other time - somewhere between 20 and 30 times - I gave up my seat to a Hispanic woman, usually older than me. Only once was I thanked. Two or three times I received a nod of appreciation, but that was it.

Is this a base lack of gratitude, a lack of understanding, or simply a self-centered belief that I should get out of their seat? I swear I don't know. Logically, it doesn't make sense, and trying to figure it out confuses and annoys me.

But late last week, when I witnessed something I'd never seen out here, I felt an actual true-life paradigm shift.

The Route 712 had run through about 5 minutes early again, so I caught a bus on an adjacent street. It would get me to a different trolley station later than I needed to be, but it beat waiting another 20 minutes for the next bus.

This one wasn't quite full, and I ended up riding for a few stops, until a lady in a motorized wheelchair got on board. They take up quite a bit of room, and those folks at the front of the bus moved toward the back. I hopped up to let someone else have my seat. Just a couple rows in front of me, a very young African-American boy was riding alone - clearly on his way to school. I guessed him to be 11, maybe 12 years old.

A few more stops, and the seats were finally full. At the next stop, a woman got on board. Yes, she was Hispanic, and she was probably around my age. She was also clearly in excellent shape, youthful-seeming, and was carrying nothing except her purse. Full of energy, she bounded up onto the bus, and grabbed the nearest strap - near the young boy. He looked up, grabbed his bookbag and backpack, and jumped out of the seat.

"Sit here, ma'am," he told the woman - and that is a quote. She looked at him, looked around, and began to demur. Clearly she didn't need the seat. She was probably healthier than anyone else on the bus, and was holding only that little clutch purse. He had bags dangling off his arms and couldn't even reach the strap.

The bus started to move. She looked up, past me at someone behind me. She then looked at me, and then glanced down at the boy - still waiting.

"Go ahead, ma'am," he said, offering his seat again.

She smiled at him; one of the warmest smiles I'd ever seen.

"Thank you, sir," she said - again I'm quoting. She nodded to him and slid into the seat. He grabbed the bar on the back of the seat, and still clutching his bookbag and backpack, rode standing up to his stop - so she could ride.

It was one of the most genuine moments of courtesy and manners I'd ever witnessed, and it was matched by an act of true grace. I do not exaggerate when I say it was the high point of my day, possibly my week. It's rare to see someone that young be that gentlemanly, a reflection of the man he is certainly going to grown into. I'd like to meet that young man's parents, and I'd like to shake their hands.

And her? Her moment of grace in the face of what could be seen as an absurd action from a wide-eyed young boy only illuminates the gulf that separates types of behavior. With her words, her acceptance of his offer, she reminded him that what he did was right. It couldn't have been handled better. I suspect that if she has children of her own, then they are the very ones who do stand and offer their seats to others; I suspect that she has brought them up right.

That afternoon, when I gave my seat up to a surly woman who never so much as nodded a 'thank-you' in my direction, I thought about that graceful lady and that young man - at that moment when manners met grace. I smiled at the woman who didn't thank me and took my station standing up.

As long as I ride, I'll continue to do this. Whether my offer is appreciated doesn't matter. It's not the point. The point is to make the offer, to do the thing that we know is correct. Where it took watching a pre-teen make a stand for courtesy to remind me of this, maybe my act of common courtesy will sink into one of these others. Maybe a little bit of apathy will blow away, and maybe he'll stand and offer his seat to another.

And maybe not. I'm not here to change anyone else, but I'll be damned before I'll let it change me. I'll stand, thanks.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Time Keeps On Slipping, Slipping, Slipping...

Okay, I admit it's more than a bit hackneyed to use a line from a overplayed 70's radio hit as one's blog-post title, but that's about all I could muster up this time.

To quote myself: "Oh. My. God. I'm tired." This particular census operation has proved to be mentally draining and even physically a bit brutal. In the past week, I've fallen asleep on the couch, while in the middle of a conversation with my girl; on my 'perch' on the porch - where I try to write, blog, tweet (or - shameless admission: play vast amounts of online RPGs if the muse - that bitch - hasn't struck me); and, last night, in the living room floor while playing with the dog.

I sound pathetic, I sound weak, and yes, I sound old.

I discovered about half an hour ago that it has been a week since I'd even glanced at this thing. I slept in today, and I'm still tired enough that I still haven't quite seemed to grasp the absence of it. Hm. Bad sentence, that. In other words I wasn't even aware that I'd missed it, because I didn't realize that I hadn't been there.

Still not much better. Oh, well. That's about the speed my cortex is functioning at.

I've missed two meetings of my writers' group because of this operation; I simply don't have the energy to consider driving into the North County right now. Frankly, I'm afraid of passing out while driving. As both the dog and my girl know...it could happen.

As of the end of the past month, I also missed a chance to submit my short story, A Chilling Wind (shamless plug - the link is here) to the "Writers of the Future" contest. I'd decided it was good enough to submit something for the first time, but now I'm going to have to wait several months to try again.

On the other hand, I've decided to step back and do a "reconceptualization" of The Wyrd Magnet - which might start showing up in a month or two. I've also worked out some of the kinks of another previously-mentioned short story, "Shooting Pool." And I've come up with something quite out there - something unlike anything else I've ever written. It's called "Dead Beld," and I'm feeling pretty strong about it. Tonight, I'm going to start working on it.

No, I haven't forgotten about Heroes... It's my pride and joy, but right now, my brain needs an injection of something else. I've decided to give it that.

Yes, my time seems to be slipping, slipping, slipping into the future, but at least it seems to me that it's not going away quietly.

Later, y'all.