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