Phil Lopez was formidable figure
The untimely death of a union brother and colleague is always a shock, but the members of the Southwestern College Faculty Association were taught well by longtime faculty activist Phil Lopez, and have stepped up to fill the void.
Lopez, a formidable figure and occasional thorn in the side of college administrators, died of a massive heart attack in December, just hours after completing a successful contract negotiating session on behalf of faculty. The English professor passed away a day before his 65th birthday. As the campus newspaper, the Southwestern Sun observed, for the past 27 years, Lopez had been either the union president, vice president or secretary. He also regularly attended CCA conferences and spoke out on many issues and on many occasions.
In 2009, he and three colleagues were suspended in a free speech incident that garnered national attention. The faculty leaders were given two-week furloughs for their involvement in a campus protest over the cancellation of 400 course sections. Although the administration had threatened him with criminal charges, Lopez was reinstated and the incident became a catalyst for the faculty association to run their own candidates for the board of trustees.
A union champion
“He was our union champion and lion,” said Josue Arredondo, an adjunct English professor who has been teaching three years at Southwestern. “At his funeral we sang union songs like ‘Hallelujah I’m a Bum’ and ‘Get The Bosses Off Our Backs.’"
Lopez’s death occurred a month after a successful election in which the faculty association joined with the local labor council to pass Prop. 30, defeat Prop. 32 and elect two more faculty-friendly trustees to the community college board to make a four-trustee majority on the board.
“Phil would open up his yellow house for phone banking. We went to his house the night of the election. He was always an advocate for faculty. We’ll miss him, but we know we have to step up,” said Arredondo, who, true to his promise, was attending CCA’s Winter Conference as a first-time delegate.
Recently, when the college administration was putting pressure on faculty to make changes in order to appease the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Arredondo recalls Lopez exclaiming, “I’m not afraid of Barbara Beno!” in reference to the chair of the commission.
Everyone has rights
“Phil taught us that you always have to look at everyone’s rights,” said Frank Post, an adaptive technology specialist who became involved in the faculty association as a part-time instructor in 1996. “You can’t ignore issues. You have to stand up for them.”
Post noted that Southwestern has both equity on the pay scale and vesting rights for adjunct faculty, at least partly because of Lopez’s determination.
Carol Stuardo, a part-time instructor, said Lopez understood the importance of adjunct faculty, and during one of his terms as president advocated that no full-time faculty would get overload until all vested part-time faculty received at least one class.
“It wasn’t necessarily a popular position,” she said, “but he stuck to it, regardless of the ramifications.”
Some faculty like chemistry professor Tinh Khuong, weren’t exactly sure of Lopez at first.
“I didn’t like him initially. He was brash and I wasn’t sure I wanted him representing me. But I got to know him and realized he was super honest, good with numbers, supportive and a great resource. He knew the Ed Code and he was fearless,” Khuong said.
The association’s new treasurer, Khuong says he still has a lot to learn, but he’ll be better in his job because of Lopez.
“The union wouldn’t be what it is now without him,” he said.