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.'"


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..."


  1. It's interesting to see how media picks up on things. Thanks for the links.

  2. Happy to provide them. Always good to know that someone's using them. :-)

  3. I love your coverage, your writing and your questons to the elected Governing Board. Keep this FIRE going (weren't they amazing too?)

  4. I don't care HOW quiet the SWC admin is acting; this HAS to have them shocked. Having FIRE ripping you a new one is pretty much one short step away from having the ACLU appearing on your front step.

    Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate every one of them. :-)

  5. Barbara J. Speidel, SWC ProfessorNovember 7, 2009 at 11:10 AM

    Having this overview of what is happening at SWC is excellent. While the UT remains in Chopra's pocket, with this broadening exposure they will also be humiliated by their inability to investigate the rhetoric handed to them by SWC's superintendent/president. Chopra even hired a laid-off UT editor who wrote one of the previous tributes to his self-proclaimed glory.

    Chopra and the Governing Board members, excluding Aguliar, will be totally responsible for any WASC actions taken in their report that will be issued in February. Yes, save our Southwestern College.

  6. Hi, Barbara! As annoyed as I am with the San Diego Union-Tribune's single-minded jihad against education, I have to question whether or not can even FEEL humiliation. Nothing I've seen indicates that. Personally, I'd like to see some businesses take the lead on this - and start pulling their advertising until the U-T decides to actually take an editorial - and not its patented anti-ecucation attack stance.

    But you've brought a couple things back to my mind. WASC (that's the Western Association of Schools and Colleges - Accrediting Commission for Schools, to all you folks who don't know that meant - including me) is going to present its findings in February, a month after SWC starts its new Chopra-created short 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 new agenda of fear reflect 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. And 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 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.

    Not to blow our horn, but it's ludicrous to think that WASC isn't aware of all this activity. Can anyone take seriously the idea that this WON'T affect SWC's accreditation process?

    I'm afraid it will, and this will 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.

    Whoa. I think I'm going to shut this one down before I actually get cranky.

  7. AND ANOTHER THING! (And here I'd REALLY like someone with an Economics background to chime in...)

    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 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 isn't 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.

  8. Okay...one more 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 where 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.