GRAPHIC: cover of THE NATION, 10/5/98 “What do students want?”
Recent IVC graduate Sanaz ”Action Figure” Mozafarian spent the summer interning for the Nation; presently, she’s continuing her education at Berkeley. Before she left the Nation, however, she contributed to a story, out this week, concerning “what’s happening” on college campuses. It includes reports from seven institutions: Harvard, U of NC/Chapel Hill, Mount Holyoke, Bowdoin, U of W/Madison, Howard, and, in the #2 spot, Irvine Valley! Here’s Sanaz’s fine contribution to that lengthy report:
IRVINE VALLEY COLLEGE
When California community college students said “no more” to the authoritarian school board of Irvine Valley College earlier this year, they got a taste of what faculty and staff had been complaining about for years: straight-up oppression.
The seven-member South Orange County Community College District Board, elected by voters every four years, is the ultimate authority on employment, budgets and policy for the 12,000-student college. During their 1996 campaign, several board members appealed to conservative voters by accusing their opponents of supporting same-sex marriage. Since then they’ve pushed their right-wing agenda from the boardroom to the classroom. Last year Steven Frogue, then the board’s president, proposed to teach a class on JFK assassination theories that was to include a guest speaker from The Spotlight (which the Anti-Defamation League has labeled the nation’s most anti-Semitic publication) who claims the Israeli Mossad was responsible. Board members and college president Raghu Mathur, appointed by the board last year, have ignored faculty hiring suggestions and replaced administration dissidents with cronies who claim to be apolitical; some who have questioned the board’s decisions have been threatened by self-proclaimed white supremacists.
Last year students, local residents and members of the Jewish and gay communities joined the faculty and staff efforts to challenge the board. In a rare show of Orange County activism, students Delilah Snell and Diep Burbridge gathered nearly 100 of their colleagues for a series of campus demonstrations, the first in the college’s near-twenty-year history. They denounced the hiring of Mathur, demanded the recall of Frogue and called attention to the possible loss of the college’s accreditation. The rallies attracted major media coverage. In response, the board, Mathur and their cronies claimed the students were “misled” by a handful of “disgruntled employees” and “leftist” faculty. Even freedom of speech took a nosedive. Snell and Burbridge were initially told to give twenty-four-hour notice before each demonstration and to submit to college officials for review everything they would be passing out. After meetings with the president in which they were accused of “misleading” others and hostile encounters with board supporters, the students were at first permitted one hour a week to hold their demonstrations. Soon it was reduced to thirty minutes.
Now the students, represented by the ACLU, are suing Mathur and the board for violating their First Amendment rights. According to the lawsuit, filed this past summer, the demonstrations were relocated from the center of campus to an isolated area where students were told to keep their noise level down. When the limits were questioned, students were told it was not in the “best interest of the college” to hold a longer protest in a more visible part of campus, given the “political climate.”
The board’s actions are astonishing, but what is even more astonishing is that at a small commuter college, in a largely Republican district where most people never learn the names of public officials, these students cared enough to challenge injustice and are fighting to secure future students’ rights. So much for apathy.
Sanaz Mozafarian is a recent Nation intern and the former editor in chief of Irvine Valley College ‘s student newspaper [the VOICE].