"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." - Robert A. Heinlein

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cowardice Defined - Southwestern College Governing Board and Raj Chopra's Evaluation

On Thursday evening, January 28, the more and more ill-named Governing Board reached quite possibly its newest low. It held an emergency meeting to let the public know that they were about to begin evaluating Dr. Raj Chopra's job as Chancellor-President of Southwestern College.

The evaluations, of course, would be done behind closed doors - as is right. What's wrong is how the board is doing it. They are shoving through this evaluation to get it done as quickly as possible; it is being treated as an emergency - hence the reason for this sudden meeting.

You see, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), are expected to release their accreditation report on SWC tomorrow - Monday, February 1. It is believed by all that the school will be blasted for several failures (most of them rooted in the administration and its inability to work with any non-administration types, i.e. faculty, contract staff, students...)

Go here for more on WASC and the reasons accreditation may be at risk. (From the November 14 Washroom post.)

By ramming Chopra's evaluation through before the accreditation report comes out, the members of the Governing Board who continue to prop him up - Pres. Yolanda Salcido, Vice-Pres Terri Valladolid, and recent President Jean Roesch - are attempting to clear him from having to shoulder any responsibility for WASC's findings. With the evaluation done and complete, they don't have to address any failings that WASC shines a spotlight on, and they, in their warped minds, are in the clear.

As far as I'm concerned these actions have redefined cowardice at the upper echelons of higher education. I'm calling that the Example of Cowardice Number One.

Example of Cowardice Number Two: Raj Chopra's evaluation was actually due in October 09. But whenever board member Nick Aguilar tried to get his evaluation put on the monthly board meetings, it never made it.

Who is the gatekeeper for the agenda? Who decides what goes on it? Raj Chopra does.

Yes, you're reading this right. Raj Chopra was able to prevent the board from evaluating him, simply by not putting Nick Aguilar's request to do so on the agenda. And of course Trustees Salcido, Valladolid, and Roesch stood behind that every time, because he's their boy, yo.

With his evaluation clearly not important enough to have been done for months (I've been told that Trustee Aguilar attempted to put it on the agenda for seven months, but I don't know that for certain), it is an act of gross cowardice to try to sneak one through the goal moments before a report appears that must affect that evaluation.

What was unimportant enough to be blown off for months suddenly becomes an emergency only if Raj Chopra might look bad. That's your Governing Board at work, folks.

Cowardice Example Three: Had the members of the Board who decided to host this charade chosen to, they could have given written notice to the members of the staff, faculty, students, and the public; and given plenty of time for people to respond.

You may now laugh.

Of course they don't want the public, the faculty, and the students to respond. They know how disgusted the lot is with them, and with Dr. Chopra. So instead of doing anything close to "the right thing," they announced the meeting at around 4 p.m. on Wednesday, only about 25 hours before the actual "emergency" meeting was held.

You saw the photo at the top. People simply couldn't come. It was a near-empty room. Many people didn't know, and many others simply couldn't make arrangements. One instructor who did come brought his children. Besides Phil Lopez, the Union President, and Valerie Goodwin-Colbert, the Academic Senate President, there was a mere handful of instructors, two children, and yours truly.

Why, even one member of the Governing Board failed to show up...

Cowardice Example Four: Trustee Terri Valladolid chose not to show up at the public meeting, but according to a witness standing outside the closed-door session, she "slipped in the back door just as it started."

She could do this. She helped set events in motion before the public meeting. When Trustees Aguilar and Jorge Dominguez attempted to slow the process, they were unable to. To do so required a majority of five, and a tie vote of 2-2 does nothing. Valladolid knew this, and she is fully aware of the petition drive to recall her, so she played the coward card.

By not arriving at the public meeting, she has set herself up to deny fast-tracking Raj Chopra's evaluation. She can say, "I didn't vote against Nick and Jorge! I wasn't even there!" Of course she wasn't. She didn't have to be. But she did have to be there to actually discuss the evaluation. So it's no surprise that she had to skulk in the back to take part in this sham she helped create.

Cowardice Example Five: For the first time in known history, the Governing Board has decided to evaluate its Chancellor-President with no input from the faculty. This is quite simply unheard of. Again, this is as egregious as it is because the board members doing this know that the faculty has voted Raj Chopra no-confidence in the past, and because his grasp of leadership continues to slide.

I could go into this much deeper, but someone else has already done so. Please visit our chums at Save Our SWC for much more on this issue - then hurry back!

It also has to be added that the Board has created an evaluation that is impossible to grade. In the words of Trustee Dominguez: "It's all 'I think,' 'I feel,' 'I wish' statements. You should see it."

But we can't. The Board has decided that not only is the evaluation process a closed-door issue, but that the evaluation form is, also.

I asked Trustee Dominguez this: "Is there any way to quantify it?" He answered, "There's no way."

In other words, no matter what they say about Raj Chopra, there is nothing to measure it against; there is no quantifiable data being gathered. It's a series of "I think he's doing okay" statements. This is another egregious decision - and another transparent attempt to prop up his position.

Cowardice Example Six: With the expected sanctions that WASC will likely levy against SWC, it should be expected that the Governing Board and its administration would try to find some way to spin this so it's not entirely negative.

You're going to love this.

After the sham public information meeting, I was told that Our Good Friend Nick Alioto was heard saying - earlier that day - that the members of the faculty wanted those coming sanctions.

Yes. He's claiming that the professors want WASC to levy sanctions against their school and their programs.

I believe this (and I'm on the record before WASC's report is due), that Chopra's administration is going to try to spin his failures, and his administration's failures, as the fault of the faculty. I believe he is so disgustingly desperate to hold onto his job that he would go so far as to do this. He will likely say it was the professors who wanted those sanctions as a way of making him look bad.

He doesn't need the professors to look bad. He's got himself, and Alioto, and his pocket Board members to do that.

Don't be fooled. This will fall on him, but much of the damage will miss him. Board members Salcido, Valladolid, and Roesch will have seen to that. They have twisted and warped the system to shine up a man who will only ever be known for destroying the reputation of a good school. This man, who is so incapable of admitting his errors and faults, that he will attempt to blame his own victimized professors for errors and faults that the accreditation committee will lay at his doorstep.

The public wants Chopra gone. The staff, the faculty, and the students want him gone. Two members of the board want him gone. Only three want him to stay.

This is just another reason why we're going to have to work to force Salcido, Valladolid, and Roesch out of office. This concerned majority can't touch Chopra, but we can touch them.

Recall them. Give them a reason to be cowards. It's no better than they deserve.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Photos: El Camino Motel, Imperial Beach ("John From Cincinnati's" Snug Harbor)

One of my favorite TV shows in recent years was HBO's brilliant, criminally-unwatched "John From Cincinnati." Set in Imperial Beach, California, much of it was actually also shot there. The exterior of the Snug Harbor Motel, hands down the show's most important set was filmed in IB's El Camino Motel.

(Click on a picture to see more photos of the El Camino.)

Run down, abandoned, and left to rot off Palm Avenue, I finally decided to get a few shots there. I spoke with neighbors at two different businesses; no one claimed to know who owned it.
I've read that the cabins on the grounds where Butchie lived were built by the production company. I suspect that's true, but even now they look as if they've been there all along.

As an avid fan of David Milch's looping, baroque "Milchspeak," I loved the show dialogue, particularly the reflective, swirling way that John himself usually spoke. This is just a little taste from John's famous "Sermon at the Motel" - and yes, it's just a bit, and it's clean.
"Joe is a Doubting Thomas. Joe will save Not-Aleman. Joe will bring his buddies home. This is how Freddie relaxes: cup-of-Joe and Winchell's variety dozen...
...Fur is big, mud is big, the stick is big. The Word is big. Fire is huge. The wheel is huge. The line and circle are big. On the wall, the line and circle are huge. On the wall, the man at the wall makes a man from the circle and line. The man at the wall makes a Word on the wall from the circle and line. The Word on the wall hears my Father."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Photos: San Diego Waterfront at Night

These shots were all taken on December 28, along the waterfront just north of downtown San Diego. None of them are the "best snaps ever!" that I'd like them to be, but they were one of my first low-light practice sessions with my new Panasonic Lumix fz-35.

These were (obviously) shot with no flash, only the ambient light - which is more than ample, and were done handheld. There was no tripod used, or any measures taken to keep the pictures stationary. Except for me standing very, very still.

If the links work right, you should be able to click through on any of the pictures to see the full gallery.
Let me know what you think.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Our New Year Awaits (And a Bit of Music Sees the Light)

I hope everyone had a happy Christmas, and a safe and festive New Year's. 2009 will certainly be written into the history books as a year of worldwide tumult and instability. I suspect that many of you had years like mine - full of as many downs as ups. I'm not the type to trot all my confessions out for public viewing, so I won't go into too many details. Suffice it to say, I would venture a guess that we're pretty much all in the same boat.

It's with a mixture of hope and anxiety that I look forward to 2010. Just a few days in, and nothing seems different; but I still look into the future with the same upward gaze that we use to watch the sun rise.

I started this blog just about a year ago, and at the time I was focused on getting my manuscript published. I submitted it, and it was rejected, and I was okay with that. It needed work. It hasn't gotten enough of it. The past several months have been a desert of creativity, as far as the novel went. I fell victim to a crippling bout of selective writer's block, one that seemed only to affect the Heroes... manuscript. After several chapters, which were read and reviewed here - and by my friends in the North County Writers of Speculative Fiction - I came to a screeching halt.

I call that a serious down.

However, during that time I've written several things - some pieces, some openings, a few chapters, and two short stories. I posted both "A Chilling Wind" and "Melbourn's Storm" here, and submitted both to my writer's group. The response for both was quite positive, though both are vastly different (and Melbourn is one of the protagonists from Heroes...). Following advice from some of my writerly friends, I decided to submit both of them to L. Ron Hubbard's "Writers of the Future" contest.

"A Chilling Wind" went in just before the end-of-December deadline for the quarter. I plan to submit "Melbourn's Storm" during the next quarter. Receiving positive feedback for both from the readers and writers who visit here...I call that a serious up.

With that, I have to digress a moment and describe one of the absolute high points of my year. In October, I received a message from one of my Twitter friends. He said he had read "A Chilling Wind" and was motivated to do some work of his own - because of that story. Early in November, I received an email from the same gentleman which contained a piece of music.

The writer - my online friend - is Brian Travers, the monster horn player and one of the founders of reggae giants UB40. Brian and his writing partner, Martin Meredith, composed a major-minor nocturne for my short story - which still hasn't seen publication.

Brian and I have discussed art, writing, and music a few times, and we are both rock-solid believers in "Art for Art's Sake." When he described feeling inspired to write a piece of music for it, I was filled with a surge of ego and a sense of humility at the same time. I've thanked Brian, but I've never known exactly how to demonstrate it.

This is it. According to his email, this is a version that would probably be tweaked and edited sometime down the line. It is a nocturne, and reflects the sounds of the sky and the city after the last line is read.

In a year of both ups and downs, this was one of my strongest ups - and now I feel comfortable sharing it with you. Feel free to listen. Music unheard is as big a loss as words unread.

If you're on Twitter and you like it, you should let Brian know; he is @btub40. I suspect he enjoys feedback almost as much as I do.

Thank you, all. Thank you, Brian. Thank you, Martin. I'll let you know how it all turns out. Oh, one last thing: I'm back to rewriting Heroes... again. Just wanted you to know.

If you haven't, read "A Chilling Wind."


To hear "Major Minor Nocturne (A Chilling Wind) by Brian Travers & Martin Meredith, please use the player at the top left of this page. I have tried, tried, and tried some more, but simply can't get any audio player to embed and play in this post. Sorry for the technical difficulties.