PR no substitute for leadership

Written by: Unsigned / Sun Staff

10/09/2013

Cartoon by Joaquin Junco Jr.

Let us get a few disclaimers out of the way.  The Editorial Board of The Sun is very fond of Dr. Angelica Suarez, the perky vice president of student services. We also like Dean of Student Affairs Mia McClellan, who is genuinely friendly and generally held in high regard by the ASO students she works with.

That said, we have some very serious problems with the way Dean McClellan has handled student safety issues at Southwestern College and we are very disappointed that Dr. Suarez has blindly supported her despite mounting evidence that the college does not adequately protect vulnerable students from bullies, sociopaths and potentially violent students.  We respect Dr. Suarez’s right to express her opinion and disagree with our May editorial calling for a safer campus (even though sending it in a global e-mail and to all students’ e-mail was really over the top). What we do not like is her knee-jerk response to defend her friend rather than consider the evidence. Circling the wagons is no substitute for leadership and we need some clear-eyed leadership right now.

This summer staff members of The Sun contacted nearly two dozen students and former students who have filed complaints, police reports and documentation with McClellan’s office of student affairs. Most of them said the same thing. They were dragged through a tedious process with the end result of nothing happening to the perpetrator. Some of them said they felt so unprotected and unsafe at Southwestern College that they quit school.

It is not just students who are unhappy with the college’s less-than-rigorous efforts to remove threatening students and maintain campus safety. Following our May editorial on this subject, staff members of The Sun heard from several members of the faculty, adjunct instructors and classified employees who said that aggressive, threatening students too often get a slap on the wrist and are returned to the campus with few or no consequences.

Dr. Suarez’s statement that McClellan’s office is not able to release all details related to punishments or interventions meted out against aggressive students is probably mostly true, but also a ringing cop-out. We know that violent students have been let off easy and returned to campus life with little or no consequence – they make it a point to let us know. For many bad guys it seems to be a point of honor to be dragged into the office of student affairs and have bragging rights later that “this f***ing college can’t touch me!”

Our college campuses are dangerous enough these days.  Virginia Tech, San Diego City College, Santa Monica College and others have been the sites of murderous rampages from students and non-students alike. It is bad enough when a random unhinged gunman barges on to a campus to conduct mayhem. Worse – and most inexcusable –  is when we know who the unhinged are and allow them to stick around and continue to escalate their threatening behavior.

Southwestern College has dodged bullets a few times in the past 15 years.  We hope our luck continues to hold.  Wishing for luck, however, is not enough.  SWC Campus Police Chief Michael Cash and the campus safety committee deserve props for revamping the college’s old and creaky campus safety plan. Cash has played on the big stage and has seen how the pros handle safety planning and dangerous situations.  Even though he is a cheerful and outgoing man, he knows the world is a dangerous place and favors preparation over prayer.

The Editorial Board of The Sun stands firmly behind its May editorial and calls for the leadership of this institution to dispense with the PR and listen to students when they say they do not feel safe here. Pay attention when young women quit college because they are bullied and harassed. Take note when the people who teach here say they do not feel supported. Effective leaders listen, even if they do not like what they are hearing.

Writing dismissive responses to editorials is not leadership.  Denying a problem in a mass e-mail does not mean there is not a problem.  Pretending to issue a “correction” or a statement to “set the record straight” is not communication and not respectful toward thoughtful, engaged students. We are trying to tell our college’s leaders that too many students do not feel safe and that there are dangerous people on our campus that get away with anti-social and scary behavior. Let us hope they do not get away with murder.