Editorial: Southwestern College community wants answers!
October 30, 2009
La Prensa San Diego has been a supporter of the board at Southwestern Community College, the hiring of Dr. Raj Chopra and his leadership as superintendent. When Dr. Chopra was hired the college was a mess, he was the fourth superintendent in a little over two years, a negative Grand Jury report, criminal investigation into a previous Superintendent’s misuse of funds, and most damning, an economy that had the country in the throes of a depression.
Dr. Chopra and the school board have done a commendable job under the circumstances and earned the support of the community and of this paper.
Yet due to an economic crisis beyond their control, changes and cuts were necessitated by a drop in revenue. This crises was not unique to Southwestern College or community colleges in general but affected the whole educational system from elementary school districts to State universities. Changes were needed and they were needed rapidly. This quite naturally caused unrest and apprehension up and down the state with all educational institutions. Still fresh in our memories are the thousands of pink slips handed out to teachers, reorganizations, firings, and in the case of Southwestern College, the elimination of class courses.
Naturally in response to all of this there have been heated school board meetings, community apprehension, student unrest and concern, teachers unsure of the future, and protest.
This is what occurred at Southwestern College last Thursday on the 22nd of October. About 300 students protested the decision by Superintendent Chopra and the Board to eliminate 400 courses. What occurred after the protest, though, is what has the community rattled and unsure of what is going on. Many, including this newspaper, think that the college administration stepped over the line.
After the protest and after everyone had gone home, three professors who had participated in the protest were served by the human resources chief and a police officer, with a notice of paid suspension until further notice.
It has been suggested that the notice of suspension had nothing to do with the protest and that the school Board has the utmost respect for the freedom of speech. This is all well and good but to the community, the faculty, the students at the college, this smacks of retaliation and has a chilling affecting on the constitutional rights of the freedom of speech.
For those at the college who have been outspoken opponents of the Superintendent, this only confirms their charges that Dr. Chopra management style is autocratic. For those who have supported Dr. Chopra, this situation has put them into a very uncomfortable position. For those who have taken a wait and see attitude toward this administration, they have seen enough and are no longer in support of the management style of Dr. Chopra. And this has cast a dark shadow over the school board.
Compounding the problem has been the lack of an official response from either the Superintendent, who is on vacation, or the school Board whose members state that it is a personnel issue and as such cannot speak to the issue.
This cone of silence only serves to add to the rancor that this has been created over time. The way in which these notices were served leaves the community with the perception of administration intimidation and an assault on free speech.
This is the time that the school Board members need to stand up and respond to the communities concerns. They need to address some of the issues, and take a stand. The school Board needs to answer to the community, the very people who voted them into office to represent their concerns, and fulfill their promise when elected to represent the community on all school matters. This is the time for leadership.
Dr. Chopra is not without blame here. The suspension notices do not go out without consultation. His vacation may be an excuse for not addressing the public or issuing a statement about the suspensions, but it is a flimsy excuse. To remain silent is damning.
The faculty members are within their rights to demand a hearing within seven days of receiving their suspension. There will be a hearing this Monday, November 2nd, at the campus. Unless the faculty members request a public hearing, it will be conducted behind closed doors. We would like to see a public hearing, but this is a personal choice for each member of the faculty suspended which should be respected. But either way this will not be the last we hear on this and unless there is strong evidence for the suspensions, this could be the beginning of the end for Dr. Chopra.