The Sun also rises, printing will continue

Printing of student newspaper continues after attempted halt by administration

By Lyndsay Winkley and Albert H. Fulcher, Senior Staff Writers

Published: Thursday, September 30, 2010

Following a month-long struggle with college administrators that caused cancellation of its first issue of the academic year, the Southwestern College Sun student newspaper was published today by a Los Angeles area printer with funding provided by a successful television writer who once attended SWC.

State and national journalism organizations, the Southwestern College community and Emmy Award-winning writer J. Michael Straczynski rallied to help the student staff of the Sun to print this issue after Vice-President of Academic Affairs Dr. Mark Meadows told Professor of Journalism Max Branscomb earlier this month not to print the Sun until a new printing contract could be put out to bid.

Meadows cited a dormant 20-year-old policy that he and Superintendent Dr. Raj K. Chopra said they discovered in July while reviewing district policies for a report to the state accreditation commission. Southwestern is currently on probation with the commission and is at risk of losing its accreditation after being cited for 10 administrative deficiencies.

Branscomb and his immediate supervisor, Dean Donna Arnold of the School of Arts and Communication, were threatened with disciplinary action or termination if the Sun printed without a new contract. Branscomb said he offered a compromise that would allow the Sun to continue operation with its existing printer while the district developed bids for a long-term arrangement. Meadows rejected the plan and insisted the policy had to be followed. After a period of two

weeks, the district told Branscomb the Sun could be printed again, but it was too late

to salvage Isssue #1.

“Adherence to one aspect of that policy communicates adherence to the policy in its entirety,” said Shannon Pagano, volunteer assistant advisor for the Sun. Amanda Abad, production manager for the Sun, said the editorial board asked Branscomb to step out of negotiations regarding the decision to print the paper.

“The administration was negotiating with the wrong people,” said Abad. “This is between the administration and, we, the students.”

Administration said that while the policy appears to be ill-timed, policy is policy.

“They have to be in compliance with the same business practices that every other department of campus is compliant with,” said Chris Bender, spokesman for the college.

Chopra and Meadows said they discovered policy 6063, which has been dormant for more than 20 years, while they were reviewing policies for an accreditation report. It was originally found in the first week of July but was not brought to Branscomb until days before Issue 1 of the Sun was to be printed.

The printing of the Sun was stalled while administrators reviewed the policy to make sure the Sun was in compliance. Administrators said the protection of public funds, particularly the Sun’s printing cost, was the reason for the delay.

“I really expect that the taxpayers expect from us to make sure that their money is being spent responsibly,” Chopra told the San Diego Union-Tribune. Student journalists and faculty members at SWC call the move a strong-armed tactic to muzzle the media only weeks before a controversial governing board election and a critical accreditation report. “They’re afraid of what might be in the issue at such an important time,” said Andy MacNeill, president of SWC’s faculty union. “I think the Sun, being the student voice, has really been the place where people in the community look to for what’s really going on.”

Bender said the administration is not attempting to stifle the Sun’s content. “They can still publish their information,” said Bender. “They have an online presence, a robust one. They control it. They can publish anything they want, anytime they want.”

In addition to details regarding printing for the school’s paper, Policy 6063 alsocalls for the creation of a newspaper oversight board composed of administrators, student government representatives and faculty. It empowers the oversight board to ratify and fire the editor-in-chief, and weigh in on the newspaper’s content. John Carter, managing editor for the Sun, said the oversight board is a conflict of interest and could potentially be abused.

“This creates a situation with the potential for intimidation and coercion,” said Carter. “Our current situation with the college administration is a perfect example of why this is a dysfunctional idea. It is a de facto conflict of interest for administrators and groups like the Associated Student Organization that we cover to have powers to select and fire the editor of the newspaper.”

The Sun is no stranger to controversial content. Over the last several years it has printed critical editorials and hard news stories exploring some of the administration’s more contentious decisions.

A large number of these stories have won awards from organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists. College governing board member Dr. Jean Roesch said the negativity printed in the school newspaper harms the reputation of the college. “I am anxious to see more positive things being said in the newspaper,” said Roesch. “We don’t need to continue with this negative rudeness. I’ve never been treated like this. They think they can say anything they want. They have been cruel, disrespectful and I want to see this stopped in board meetings and in the media.” Pagano said the Sun’s first responsibility is to print the news. “Yes, the Sun has printed articles critical of the administration but they were a result of the administration’s poor decisions,”she said.

“The Sun’s first responsibility is to print the news, good or bad. If these are the decisions the college is making, than this is the news we print. We look forward to being able to print more positive stories when the administration starts making better decisions.” The decision to stall the printing of the paper came as a shock to the students enrolled in the Campus Newspaper Production course.

Many felt personally attacked by the administration.”I paid my money to take this class to produce a paper. If you take away that opportunity, you’re hindering my education,” said Alyssa Simental, assistant production manager for the Sun. “You can’t tell me the administration at this college didn’t have dreams once. And now they’re taking away mine.”

After local and national media reports of the decision, Branscomb, Meadows and faculty union grievance chair Robert Unger met with Chopra. Branscomb said he raised four issues with the college president, including the printing controversy, the threatened arrest of three students stopped by comapus police for attempting to take a Sun computer off campus, the plan to remove the Sun link from the college’s home page and Bender’s order that no campus employees talk to Sun staff without his permission. Chopra directed Meadows to work with the newspaper to find resolutions.

The issues remain unresolved.

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Dispute over SLO position may endanger accreditation

By Albert H. Fulcher, Senior Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ten recommendations from the Western Association of School and Colleges (WASC) resulted in Southwestern College’s current probationary status. One is the hiring and implementation of a Student Learning Outcome (SLO) Coordinator and the process of SLOs. This process has reached a standstill in negotiations between the district and the union, all centering around one faculty member.

Earlier this month the Southwestern College Education Association (SCEA) delivered a cease and desist demand to Vice President of Human Resources Michael Kerns in response to SWC governing board approval of the non-faculty hiring one day earlier of Mary Wylie, a former SWC dean, as SLO Coordinator.

SWC’s administration placed a job announcement for this position on September 1 with a September 24 deadline. Wylie was hired September 8.

SCEA’s cease and desist demand said the district’s effort to employ a SLO Coordinator is in direct contradiction of the Demand to Bargain filed by the SCEA in spring term 2010. A reply was demanded by September 10 in order to avoid filing an Unfair Labor Practice Complaint. The district refused to comply.

SCEA President Andrew MacNeill and Robert Unger, faculty union grievance chair, said they believe this matter can be resolved amicably and in time to meet the district’s need for this position.

Union officer Phil Lopez said the administration is willing to do anything, including risking SWC’s accreditation, to prevent reassigned time to the advisor of The SUN newspaper. Lopez said the SCEA is willing to start negotiations tomorrow, “but insists the district discuss the newspaper advisor’s reassigned time.”

“California has the strongest law in the country protecting college newspaper advisors,” said Lopez. “We don’t want to go there, but we will if we have to because the pattern of retaliation is absolutely clear.”

SCEA came with a tentative agreement, Lopez said, but administration wanted to talk about all reassigned time and contracts. MacNeill said union negotiators reminded administration that the SLO Coordinator is a reassigned time position and had to be handled as a package. He said it is simply not fair bargaining.

“They took reassigned time away and have been punitive with our advisor at newspaper,” he said. “They also took it away from our award-winning forensics team and the art gallery person. We can’t see them taking these things out of the whole pile. This is telling us that the administration is going to do things the way they want to, but not the ones we want.”

MacNeill said that Wylie is being used as a political football and her position is outside the realm of bargaining.

“She is not even faculty,” he said. “The union does not back this position because it has not yet been negotiated. We encourage faculty not to apply.”

Lopez said the SLO Coordinator is important to SWC’s accreditation. He said the union does not want to say faculty cannot apply for the position or that it would be considered a “scab” position.

“You should realize that anybody who was to accept this position would be undercutting the union as your sole bargaining agent,” said Lopez. “Unwillingly or not, accepting the position would be aiding and abetting this district and its attack on the freedom of the press, student’s freedom of rights and the integrity of the college.”

Unger said demand bargaining is a labor law placing the district on notice that they are mandatorily subject to the bargaining process. It is legal for them to hire the coordinator but is in direct violation of labor laws during the term of demand of bargaining.

“We will follow this legally through the entire process,” said Unger. “Meanwhile, the district has the opportunity to tell the WASC team that they have appointed an SLO Coordinator. MacNeill or the union can’t say this, but my personal position is that anyone who takes this position is a labor scab and should be treated accordingly.”

Professor of Mathematics Shannon Gracey said she made it clear in SLO meetings the position had to be put on the bargaining table because it had not yet been negotiated.

“This process is like putting the cart before the horse,” she said. “I basically began being left out of the loop with that because I was a trouble maker. They had every indication and knowledge that they had to bargain before filling this position. They went ahead anyway.”

MacNeill said the union was encouraged by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to put this position in demand for bargain.

“Last year, the union advanced bargaining on SLOs,” he said. “The reason is because the direction they seem to be going with this is in evaluating faculty. This creates more work. We already have objectives and assessments that we do to meet this. This is only a problem if we are required to do the extra work without compensation.”

Patricia Flores-Charter, learning disability specialist, said that during her term as interim SLO Coordinator the committee went through a hiring process, a person was identified and nothing ever happened.

“There has been no communication along the way,” she said. “The only way I found out that I was no longer the SLO Coordinator is when I e-mailed Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Mark Meadows requesting to attend an upcoming conference. I was told clearly that I was no longer the coordinator.”

MacNeill said Flores-Charter is recognized at state level as the SLO expert. He said at campaign meetings of governing board members Terri Valladolid and Yolanda Salcido, are blaming Flores-Charter for SWC’s SLO problems. Other than administration, 99 percent of the academic SLOs are completed, she said.

“This is another reason we stand firmly on this,” said MacNeill. “Since Chopra has been here, it has been a union-busting administration.”

Academic Senate President Angie Stuart said this WASC recommendation is not due until March 2011 and includes two integrated parts.

“The key for this one, I believe, is a data analysis, beside the fact that we don’t have an SLO coordinator,” she said. “Those two things are needed in tandem. Without both in place, it does not help us. It is like having one wheel on a bicycle.”

Stuart said faculty are already working on assessing and now have a data software product called eLumen. Academic eLumen software was approved for purchase November 2009 and faculty volunteers worked for flex credit in a pilot program in spring 2010.

“Unfortunately, faculty could not implement eLumen,” she said. “They had to use a homegrown Excel program which doesn’t help us. We are supposed to be using this really nice expensive program.”

In the interest of fair bargaining, Lopez said that the SCEA and the district have a firm interest in maintaining accreditation by moving forward with SLO Coordinator.

“However, the SCEA has a strong interest in preserving the free press, student’s First and Fourth Amendment rights and the independence of the college newspaper advisor. This interest is shared with students and the entire community as well.”

Lopez said he wanted to be understood perfectly after being shut down by Salcido at the governing board meeting.

“So I am going to be clearer,” said Lopez. “The SCEA cannot and will not sacrifice one set of interests for the other. This is a battlefield we are willing to die on, but it is a battlefield the district has created.”

MacNeill said the SCEA is still willing to proceed in negotiations and if the district is in such a hurry to get it done, it has the ability to do so today.

“The SCEA is ready, willing and able to bargain on this matter,” he said. “If the district ceases to engage in the active employment of this position, we will meet with your team and seek a solution that is agreeable to all parties.”

 Chopra, Kerns and Meadows all refused comment and refered questions to Chris Bender, SWC’s chief communications officer.

The Human Chord

Blaming the messenger for a job poorly done

By Albert J. Fulcher, Senior Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, September 30, 2010

Journalists are privy to more information than most. There is a story behind every person that passes through the grounds of Southwestern College. Most things I witness in daily campus life are inspiring. Other things heard and seen make me shudder to the bone.

Tension on SWC’s beautiful green grounds is so thick it is like a year without a summer. People are afraid to talk, concerned about losing their jobs. There are the few that continue to speak up and would rather sacrifice their jobs than compromise their ethics.

Then there are those who are unable to talk—at least without permission from Chris Bender, our new public relations overlord. To get an interview with a school employee, Bender demands that student journalists surrender their tape recorders and send questions in advance. A tape recorder makes the interview “uncomfortable,” Bender insists, and takes away the “casual conversation.” (Blog this)

I do not want casual conversation. I want answers to important matters that affect the future of this college, comfortable or not. Questions in advance give opportunity to practice scripted, coached answers. It also gives other people—maybe people like Bender—the opportunity to answer other people’s questions. This goes against the standards of American journalism practices and completely taints the process to the point that the “interview” is useless. I will not surrender the only tool that ensures my accuracy and protects my integrity as a journalist. (Twitter this)

Apparently, even with a generous salary and an assistant, Bender cannot fulfill his job description. So Chopra hired his Prop. R crony, Dan Hom, for $100,000 to lead a major media redevelopment campaign to “maintain momentum that led to approval, isolate and expose extremists, identify, cultivate and engage diverse supports, manage the media.” This Nixonian paranoia is a loud and clear signal. Changing the language of this contract will not help. Administration’s intentions are affirmed as Hom continuously changes job descriptions and titles with SWC, sucking up more and more money along the way. (Facebook this)

Then you have one person in the crowd who just cannot keep his mouth shut. In this case it is the volatile and profane vice president Nicholas Alioto. From Wisconsin to San Diego, Alioto knows how to make controversial headlines. Google him.

Recent articles of his shake down of corner lot contractors at a campaign fundraiser for governing board incumbents Yolanda Salcido and Terri Valladolid have shed truth on his true motivations. He is the embodiment of a classic American political corruption in the form of a “public servant” directing taxpayer money into the pockets of friends and allies. Much more on Alioto remains to be brought to light. Stay tuned.

Online, posted comments show just how fragile SWC’s administration is, and provides a stark reality of campus climate. Thank you Susan Luzzaro for your investigation, “Southwestern Suitors,” published in the San Diego Reader and Tanya Sierra, “College VP raised money from contractors he oversees,” published in the Union-Tribune!

Alioto said he broke no laws. He claims his federal civil rights and he is protected by the Constitution. (Ironic, as he has no issue trampling on other people’s First Amendment rights. Re: suspending professors and harassing the student newspaper.) But he walks the tightrope of ethical behavior for a vice president.

“If they take over the board, they will fire Chopra and me,” Alioto spinned in the Union-Tribune. “I did something on my time on my dime to support candidates that I feel are good for the college. I am not going to go in the corner and hide on this deal.”

Alioto’s attempt to defend the use of hired companies to raise campaign revenue for governing board members is reprehensible. (Digg this)

Finally, someone is shooting from the hip. You’re speaking my language now. You can candy-coat medicine to make it easier to swallow, but if you bite into it, the true taste is rank. Alioto might be right. With a sweeping overturn of the board in November, the whole lot of them could lose their jobs.

Make no mistake. The Sun is the number one collegiate newspaper in the nation. (No positive press release Mr. Bender?) It is a student-run newspaper. It is the students that have the responsibility and accountability for the content it publishes. We are protected by the First Amendment and not limited to the free-speech patio in front of the cafeteria.

This current campaign is successful so far. Administration is isolated, intentions are exposed, and so far it is doing a bang-up job of managing the media. Who are the extremists here?

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