Volume 45 Number 2
Instructors were furloughed over free speech incident
What started out as a student protest at Southwestern College in October over the anticipated cancellation of more than 400 spring course sections, erupted into a full free speech battle for four faculty union leaders who were slapped with a two-week furlough for their involvement in the protest.
That action by the administration garnered national attention in the media and from civil liberties organizations, and resulted in further protests on the Chula Vista campus throughout the fall. Supporters of the faculty even organized a blog, saveourswc.blogspot.com, which features an interview with faculty association president Phil Lopez, one of the four faculty who was furloughed.
Four are cited
Lopez, president of the Southwestern College Education Association, was taken aback by the suspension, especially since he only became involved by chance, when he passed the rally following a union meeting he had attended. Before the afternoon protest was over, however, Lopez along with past association president Janet Mazarella, PAC Chair Andrew Rempt, and another member, Dinorah Guardinia-Costa, were cited by campus police under Penal Code 626.4(a): …“Consent to remain on campus has been withdrawn… when there is reasonable cause to believe that such person has willfully disrupted the orderly operation of such campus or facility.”
Lopez says he was charged for inciting students to march from the rally to the president’s action – something he claims he didn’t do, but if he had, it is a constitutionally protected action.
In a statement of support for the Southwestern faculty, CCA President Ron Reel said, “When a college president and governing board support cutting 25 percent of all course offerings and exclude faculty from important decisions, the right response is to challenge these cuts…Retaliating against faculty for standing up for their students is a reckless course of action.”
Reel, along with Jim Groth, CTA Board member for that area, and U.S. Rep. Bob Filner also participated in a well-attended rally in support of the faculty on Nov. 13.
Investigation called off
The administration later called off its investigation and declined to file criminal charges against the professors. Ultimately, three of the professors received little more than a two-week paid leave. A fourth had been allowed back on campus shortly after the incident had taken place.
While much of the uproar surrounding the faculty’s “suspension” has died down, the Southwestern CCA chapter continues to oppose the administration’s proposal to cut course offerings by 25 percent.
Although many other colleges are feeling the budget ax, Southwestern has a healthy reserve fund that is twice as large as required, Lopez said. Last year, he said, the college predicted a $5 to $6 million deficit and ended up $2.1 million in the black.
Lopez maintains cutting such a large number of courses is not necessary given that reserve.
“Cutting 400 class offerings translates to 15,000 to 16,000 students who will be denied a place at the college,” he said.
Lopez said the faculty association objects to the “top-down” decision-making process that went into the decision to eliminate courses in the spring. If nothing else, the incident has mobilized faculty to organize. With three seats open on the board of trustees in November, Lopez says he expects the association will be getting involved in an election later this year.
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