[Marxism] Professors victimized for opposing cutbacks in California

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Oct 26 07:37:36 MDT 2009

Can Free Speech Be Furloughed?
October 26, 2009

On Thursday, several hundred students at Southwestern College, a 
community college outside of San Diego, held a peaceful protest 
over budget cuts that are leading to the cancellation of more than 
400 additional course sections next semester. On Friday, the 
students got a sign that someone was paying attention to the 
protest, but they didn't get the response they wanted: Four 
faculty members were immediately suspended and barred from the 
campus or using the campus e-mail system.

The suspended professors include the current and former presidents 
of the faculty union, which supported the student protest.

With California's economy in a free fall, and the budgets of 
public colleges and universities in similar decline, student and 
faculty protests have been picking up across the state, and 
several campuses have seen building takeovers or other examples of 
civil disobedience. But the Southwestern situation -- with faculty 
members getting kicked off campus -- is notable for the extent of 
administration reaction to a protest that was relatively mild 
compared to some others.

The letters that the four faculty members received telling them 
that they had been suspended immediately did not say why. But the 
letters referenced (by number) a section of California's penal 
code that bars people from "willfully disrupting the orderly 
operation of the campus."

Southwestern officials could not be reached to explain why they 
took this action. The college's spokeswoman was recently laid off 
and she has not been replaced. The college's president, Raj 
Chopra, is reportedly on vacation and his e-mail reply says that 
he will be off campus until November 13. Chopra's executive 
assistant gave local reporters a statement that said that the 
reason for the suspensions could not be made public, and that "the 
college shares our students' concerns about reductions in state 
funding for the college. The college respects, values and is 
committed to freedom of expression.”

Philip Lopez, an English professor who is president of the faculty 
union, said that there is no other possible explanation for the 
suspensions except the rally. "Nothing else happened the day 
before," he said.

Lopez said that the union -- an affiliate of the National 
Education Association -- has consulted with union lawyers and is 
demanding a hearing, which the college must schedule within seven 
days. He said that the rally received widespread support because 
the students and faculty members were questioning how the college 
is responding to the budget crisis. While state cuts are severe, 
he said, the college has insisted on keeping a reserve fund that 
is twice as large as necessary, when cutting its size might save 
more courses. He noted that the cuts planned for next semester 
will be about one fourth of courses in many departments.

Regardless of one's views of the college's strategy, he said it 
was wrong for professors to be kicked off campus without any 
explanation and apparently because they criticized the 
administration. In his case, he said, he was forced to miss a 
meeting with administrators Friday at which he was to have 
represented faculty interests, because he was ordered off campus.

"Clearly the administration doesn't think there is such a thing as 
the First Amendment," he said.

Andrew Rempt, a writing instructor who was suspended, said that he 
was most upset about being pulled from his classes and not being 
able to help his students. "I feel terrible not being able to 
teach my courses," he said. "We’re are at a real key point in the 
semester, a real make-or-break point for many of my students, and 
I can’t be there to help them. This is very difficult for me to 
deal with because that’s the whole point to what we do."

Ron Norton Reel, president of the Community College Association, 
an affiliate of the California Teachers Association (the NEA's 
California unit), issued a statement Sunday denouncing the 

"In misguided actions by administrators who have no respect for 
the rights of faculty, reports that at least four instructors at 
Southwestern College have been suspended with pay after taking 
part in a campus rally against severe cuts are extremely 
disturbing," he 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. State education cuts are threatening the 
future of this college and many others. Retaliating against 
faculty for standing up for their school and students is a 
reckless course of action."
— Scott Jaschik

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