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.

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10 Responses to “Editorial: Southwestern College community wants answers!”

  1. SWC Teacher Says:

    Thanks to La Prensa for seeing past the SWC administration’s claims that it is doing everything correctly in the light of funding cuts. The facts are that the unions brought the idea of a 2% pay cut to the table in order to save classes, which was rejected by the administration, as was a proposal to start spending some of the reserve millions as other community colleges are doing. Cuts range from 20% of class sections to over 29% in one department.

    The teachers are fighting for our students–We believe that there are other ways to save the money than by such drastic cuts–more drastic than any other community college in San Diego County. We ask the community to stand with us and with our students and ask the board to replace Dr. Chopra and spend some of the reserve money to preserve more courses by opening sections when waiting lists fill up in Spring.

    Our college student population is predominately latino. This should not be happening so much worse here than in other colleges. Call your congressman, call the school, email the board members, pray.

    –SWC Teacher

  2. Jerry Williams Says:

    As a parent of a daughter that attends Southwestern College, I have been watching the workings of Raj Chopra very closely. In my opinion he has done a number of unforgivable actions. I am very happy to see that your paper is finally starting to see the real Raj in his true autocratic management style! I don’t know if you follow the UT articles about Raj, but it was very clear to me that Raj has or had friends in high places in the UT, which published their anonymous articles! Last week I was very pleased to see that a brave UT writer penned a factual article about Raj and put her name on it! He was caught lifting a message from an airline magazine and in my opinion has no experience or talent in running a college. Please continue to expose the true Raj to the people that really matter, the students, their families, and the voting public. I for one would like to see the college run by a professional with impeccable ethics and true leadership skills .

    Thank you


  3. Coffee Girl Says:

    The suspension of these professors was an obvious act of retaliation and union-busting. What this article doesn’t say is that there was a fourth professor who was initially suspended, along with the three others. She was a former president of the teachers’ union. All four of these professors have been outspoken regarding Chopra’s inadequacies and disregard for the well-being of the students. After the suspensions were delivered, it was revealed that the fourth teacher suspended didn’t even attend the protest, so the suspension was rescinded.

    Chopra had been waiting for his chance to retaliate against these professors. What he didn’t count on was this campus and surrounding community’s strength and commitment to doing what is right.

    While he’s away on “vacation,” the campus community is strengthening its resolve and is determined, now more than ever, to toss Chopra out.

  4. Philip Lopez Says:

    I’ve copied below my response to today’s editorial in the Union-Tribune. My letter does not speak to the suspensions at SWC (and I am one of the three who was suspended), but it does address the college budget.

    Your editorial “Community colleges in a vise” omits some very important facts about Southwestern College.

    First, no one is proposing that we “drain college reserves” to provide classes for students. At the most recent Governing Board meeting, the public was informed that saving 429 class sections would cost anywhere from $1.3 to $1.7 million. Our current unrestricted reserves are about $11.5 million.

    The State Chancellor’s Office recommends a “prudent minimum reserve” of 5%. Reserves at Southwestern College are 11.6%. Simple arithmetic reveals that this is more than twice what is recommended.

    Next, your editorial states that faculty could “volunteer to take a pay cut” to help balance the budget. In 2003, faculty voted to do exactly that. However, we were inspired by the leadership of then-President Norma Hernandez who, in another bad budget year, served as Superintendent/President while receiving a Vice President’s pay.

    In contrast, our current President, Raj Chopra, got an 8% pay raise last year. No one else on campus received a raise, and, in a bad budget year, we weren’t looking for one. Chopra also gets a $20,000/year housing allowance. His total compensation–salary, housing allowance, car allowance, discretionary expense account, health benefits, and retirement—totals $250,000/year.

    Finally, last Spring, the Governing Board filled two vacant administrative positions. If you look at the school website, you will find that the District plans to hire four more new administrators this semester.

    While it is certainly true that community colleges are “in a vise,” it is not only “militants” who are suggesting that cuts should begin from the top down, that sacrifices should be shared, or that students—the very heart of our institution—should be the last to be cut.

    Philip Lopez
    Southwestern College Education Association

  5. Save Our Southwestern College Says:

    Thank you, La Prensa!

    For up-to-date info about the SWC suspensions, class cuts, and budget news, please see our blog at http://saveourswc.blogspot.com and/or follow us on twitter (@saveourswc)

  6. Concerned citizen Says:

    More and more, SWC administration acts like most governments in corrupted third-world countries. They put their needs first (the president get a raise), and they forget about the people they are supposed to serve (cut not 10% but 25% of classes). They enrich themselves and help all they pals (hire more administrators) in the backs on their constituents (our students). As citizens of the South Bay, we most protect the only institution of Higher Ed in our area.
    This is the only place where most of our young people can afford to attend after HS. The place where so many learn English so they can be productive citizens of this country and pursue their dreams. A place where so many students get inspired, motivated and supported in their educational goals. It is a shame that SWC, a place that brings us pride because of the outstanding faculty members who teach, do research, publish books at the National level, create innovative programs, get grants and nation wide prizes, is ran by a president who has lost sight of the mission of the college and has spread a culture of fear and retaliation.
    When will the Board wake up to this reality? Maybe not until next elections when our community will send them a huge “NO TO INCUMBENTS @ SWC Board” message.

  7. Francesca Says:

    The letter delivered to the three teachers from the campus citied Penal Code 626.4a, described below:

    “Basis for Exclusion. Under Section 626.4, a student, University employee, or member of the public may be excluded from the campus where there is reasonable cause to believe that the individual has engaged in an activity which (1) willfully disrupts the orderly operation of the campus and (2) is illegal under criminal statutes other than Section 626.4. More specifically, the State Supreme Court has determined that the individual’s conduct or words must “. . . constitute, or incite to, a substantial and material physical disruption incompatible with the peaceful functioning of the academic institution and of those upon its campus.” Thus, individuals may be excluded from the campus under Section 626.4 for the following types of behavior when it has resulted in a substantial and material physical disruption: assault, battery, physical disruption of buildings, destruction of property, and physical intimidation of students or employees” (taken from ).

    In short, suspension of the campus professors is an unusually harsh punishment for participation in a peaceful protest.

    Why hasn’t the administration prioritized the needs of students–their professors–at such a crucial point in the semester? What is the purpose of a public university? Why is Southwestern College being governed by fear when we all have our rights to free speech and assembly?

  8. chula vista mother of 3 Says:

    Why on earth has no one heard from the very absent Supt/Pres of Southwestern College in these times of crisis? Where on GOOGLE-EARTH is he that he has not responded by blackberry, email, voicemail, twitter, fax, letter or telephone?

    How could he possibly make the claim that he is concerned about either students, faculty, or the community after obviously avoiding any contact?

    This is very irresponsible.

  9. Ramin Moshiri Says:

    As a long time resident of Chula Vista, and someone who taught and studied at Southwestern College in 2009, UCSD Extension and other institutions of higher education, I was deeply saddened but not surprised to learn that Southwestern College is placed on probation. Four (4) of the ten (10) issues date back to the 1996 and 2003 accreditation reviews.

    According to the trustee handbook from Community College League of California, “The ultimate criteria for assessing the effectiveness of the board and the CEO are how well the institution is meeting its goals and fulfilling its mission. If the institution is not succeeding in educating students, the board and the CEO must look at their own performance as the leadership team of the district. Positive assessments of board and CEO performance mean little if their colleges are in trouble.”

    I look forward to La Prensa San Diego’s quality investigative reports on Southwestern College governance as time is running out and a quick turn-around is in order. The only positive thing about SWC being placed on probation is that hopefully be our rock bottom and the end of being in denial. The consequences for not doing so is grave for the community, specially the students that have and are taking classes that need to be transferred to a 4-year school of their choice.

    You might be interested to learn that community members like me are stepping forward to challenge the SWC board incumbents. Please visit my blog at http://raminmoshiri.com/swc and let’s begin a dialogue about the direction you believe SWC should be headed in.

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