Four years ago this month a revolution crashed over Southwestern College like a 50-foot winter swell on the North Shore of Hawaii. Citizens of the South County took back their college from a criminal governing board and administration that was in short order charged with nearly 100 felonies and misdemeanors for corruption. Raj Chopra and his inner circle of crooks were swept away and four years of abuse, sexual misconduct, thievery, secrecy and misanthropy were brushed aside.
SWC is, without a doubt, a better place now than it was in 2010, but that is not good enough. Alabama and Mississippi are better today than they were before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but only an idiot would think that racism and discrimination have gone away. Our nation is better now, but has a long way to go.
SWC also has a long way to go. A long, long way to go. We are still a low-income, low-achieving campus with too many employees in all ranks who are sleepwalking to their next paycheck and counting the days to retirement. Worse yet, many of those people are Chopra appointees who got their positions through fealty rather than merit. The Nader, Hernandez, Aguilar/Peraza board came in guns blazing and chased away nearly two dozen crooks, bullies, incompetents and sloths. Bravo to them!
We wish, however, that they would have finished the job. Chopra people are clogging Southwestern College’s progress like cholesterol clogs arteries. Too many Chopristas never got the memo that SWC is trying to become a transparent, open and honest institution of higher learning. Too many of the Old Guard are fighting the movement toward the light and trying to wrestle the college back into another Age of Darkness.
Dean of Student Services Mia McClellan is one example of this problem. Like the Russian apparatchiks who clung to communism and the White Southerners who resisted Civil Rights for all, McClellan just cannot seem to move into the post-pay for play era with the rest of us. Though it would be silly and shrill to compare her and other laconic employees to Chopra, Alioto and Chartier, she is a perfect example of what is wrong with this college.
McClellan, like too many other folks in the Student Services building, does not seem to give a rat’s rear end about serving students. Or protecting students. Or educating students. Or letting students do their jobs.
Right now McClellan has a rare chance to prove us wrong and do the right thing. Early indications are, however, that she will once again blow it. Earlier this semester when McClellan had her personal attack dogs — the campus police — chase journalism students out of a grievance hearing they had the right to attend (that they had been invited to attend) she cited a screwball campus policy that said grievance hearings were private.
Except that is not what it said.
It actually said that students had the right to invite witnesses into the hearing and in this case the grieving student invited journalists to witness the meeting. McClellan later amended her story to say that the policy was vague and that she had the power to interpret it. We will grant her the part about the policy being shabbily written, but her claim that she has more power that the Ralph M. Brown Open Meetings Act is a gross overreach.
In the United States citizens are allowed to watch their government in action. We are allowed to watch trials and court proceedings – including murder trials, rape trials and government corruption trials. Sorry, but there is nothing, not one thing, that happens at SWC student grievance hearings anywhere remotely as important or as controversial as the hearings and trials that happen every week in our municipal, state and federal courts. And guess what? Those are all open to the public.
McClellan has brought the policy in question to the powerful SWC Shared Consultation Council, a large committee formed after Chopra’s departure to take a stab at Shared Governance. College President Dr. Melinda Nish is laying down some cover fire for McClellan by saying that she asked the Queen of Darkness to modify the student grievance policy for the sake of clarity.
Sometimes very small things have enormous symbolic value. This is one of them. Principles are vastly more important than issues. McClellan may be all worked up about her little student grievances, her tiny little ASO and her insignificant corner of the world in the corner of the Cesar Chavez building. But her fight to hang on to her little fiefdom pales in importance to the principle at stake here.
Our college must continue to move in the direction of freedom of information, transparency and democracy. Nish, McClellan and SCC should be making the dark and mysterious world of student affairs more open, not less. If they fail it is up to our governing board to be the final safety net and to vote down any policies that reduce transparency, access and democracy.
College employees like McClellan need to get in line with the new direction Southwestern College is headed or ask for an early retirement option. No one person (or one department) should be allowed to sully the reputation of this college any more. Enough! Ya basta! Sapat! This is now an honest, open and crime-free campus – or at least it is supposed to be.