Most administrators are accessible, but some serious problems remain

Written by: Sun Staff / Staff Writer

11/07/2013

Cartoon by Wendy Gracia

Southwestern College’s 2010 revolution is nearing its third anniversary and the Chopra/Alioto crew that wreaked havoc and nearly ruined this institution are mostly gone. Many are facing felony corruption charges and may soon be guests of the California prison system. They thought they could make their own rules. They are now learning otherwise.

SWC is slowly rebuilding its reputation and its image thanks to an honest governing board, resilient faculty and steady staff. SWC’s pay-for-play era appears to be over and ethics is slowly pushing out corruption and cronyism.

But we have not yet reached the Promised Land.

Transparency—one of the campaign issues of all four of the reformist governing board members—is still a problem at Southwestern College, particularly among some of the administrators who are Chopra holdovers. Some campus leaders have not gotten the memo that the days of secrecy and arrogance are supposed to be behind us.

It is time for a stern reminder from the governing board and perhaps a swift kick. If that does not work pink slips are in order. SWC has too much at stake and too much to lose to let a few renegades who do not think state and federal laws apply to them drag this college back into accreditation trouble or legal problems.

In this issue of The Sun the Editorial Board and staff grades administrators on accessibility based on our experiences working with them. We define an accessible administrator as one who accepts appointments and returns messages in a timely manner, answers questions honestly and completely, and provides documents when requested. ( Report card on page A-8 of The Sun print publication.)

We are happy to report that most SWC administrators scored well. Others are improving. We applaud the college’s top administrators, President Dr. Melinda Nish and Vice-President of Student Services Dr. Angelica Suarez, for modeling the way. Both ladies earned A grades. Nish and Suarez both have enormous responsibilities and busy schedules, but always manage to squeeze in interview requests from newspaper students and provide candid information. Thank you. Four of our five governing board members also earned an A grade.

On the bottom end of the grade scale are the college’s least accessible and most opaque administrators, Joe Fighera and Mia McClellan.

Fighera, director of food services and the campus bookstore, is a nice man and generally polite, but completely unhelpful. He is uncooperative even when reporters make it clear they are working on a positive story. As director of our cafeteria and bookstore he is an important source, but he is Dr. No when it comes to the news media.

McClellan, SWC’s most media-hostile employee, is a walking stonewall who uses her staff to block all interviews and information requests.

McClellan’s refusal to speak to student reporters is legendary among SWC journalism students and borders on pathological. Her obstinance appears to have rubbed off on subordinates like former ASO directors Craig Moffat and Arlie Ricasa as well as current ASO supervisor Aaron Stark, all of whom have earned reputations for uncooperative, obfuscating behavior.

Journalism students are not the only persons with the right to question public administrators and see public documents. Every California citizen has the right to know how their tax dollars are spent. Freedom of the press is protected by the United States Constitution. All citizens have the right to access elected and appointed officials, as well as the work they generate.  Post-Watergate government transparency laws pulled the curtains on secretive, shadowy government.

McClellan, mysteriously, will not even show SWC students documents pertaining to the new online parking permit purchasing system. Even though The Sun was preparing a highly-positive report on the almost-universally popular innovation that was pitched to the newspaper by the college president, McClellan refused to cooperate and worse, refuses to turn over relevant documentation, a direct violation of California law. She has even refused to cooperate with Southwestern’s document request compliance officer when presented with a formal and legally-binding California Public Records Act request.

Besides embarrassing the college, McClellan’s anti-democratic behavior has put the institution at risk of legal action, fines and sanctions. WASC and outside media organizations are now aware of her actions.

SWC has come too far to slip back into the days of secrecy, obfuscation and “I make my own rules” arrogance. College administrators are often guilty of cherry picking laws and policies, following those they like, ignoring those they do not. McClellan, who loves to wave rules in students’ faces, ought to follow them, too.

Let us hope that Dr. Nish and Governing Board Members Humberto Peraza, Norma Hernandez, Tim Nader and Nora Vargas will continue to work as reformers and demand that ALL SWC administrators behave in an ethical, transparent manner and follow the laws of the state.

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