From Dissent 15, 1/14/99
A DISSENTER’S TALE by Big Bill
[See also How to inspire administrators/trustees to go after you]
In Dissent XIV, I reported that I had received a letter from the Chancellor that said that I was causing a “hostile work environment” “as a result of statements written and distributed” by me—namely, “statements” (and graphics) that appeared in the ‘Vine and the Dissent. Astonishingly, the Chancellor takes the position that some elements that appeared in those newsletters—he cited, among other things, a goofy 50s sci-fi movie still depicting three miniature people scrambling atop a chair to aim an enormous gun at returning “downsizers”—constitute “threats of violence.” Further, the letter charged that one of the newsletters’ monikers for IVC president RAGHU P. MATHUR—Mr. Goo—is racist. Inexplicably, it also referred to “statements” allegedly made by me “which members of the Christian religion experience as interfering with their work environment.”
Most ominously, perhaps, the letter “strongly urged” me to seek counseling to assist me in dealing with my “feelings of anger.”
The letter, dated Dec. 2 and received by me on Dec. 8, was the first I had heard about any such complaints. Nevertheless, as I later learned, the document was immediately placed in my personnel file. Observe that the Ed Code specifies that any disciplinary action taken against an instructor must refer to items already in his or her file.
Naturally, I took the letter to be the first step in a process designed to result in my dismissal. I spoke to my lawyer, Bill Shaeffer—he helped in the Brown Act lawsuits—who told Sampson that he would be attending the meeting with me that the Chancellor had demanded in the letter. We arranged to meet in Sampson’s office on the 18th of December, a Friday.
* * * * *
The meeting started at about 11:10. Shaeffer, Sampson, and I were joined by Robina Husting, the Chancellor’s assistant and our note-taker, VP of Human Resources Georgiana Sizelove, and her replacement, Harry Parmer.
As we seated ourselves, Sampson looked at me and asked whether I was taping the meeting. “Taping?”, I asked. Yes taping—you know, with a tape recorder. I assured him that I wasn’t. I pointed to my pen and said, in jest, that that was the only recording device I needed.
Sternly and somewhat cantankerously, the Chancellor proceeded to explain the purpose of the letter and the meeting. As he spoke, he used the first person plural: “we.”
I politely interrupted him. “Who’s ‘we’?”, I asked.
“‘We’ refers to the district, to the Trustees,” said Sampson.
“Have the trustees been informed of the existence of the letter that was sent to me?”, I asked. Sampson seemed flustered. “No,” he admitted. I said: “So the trustees—and you—are taking this action against me, but they haven’t even heard about it yet. Is that right?”
Sampson looked annoyed.
At some point, Shaeffer noted that, as far as Sampson knew, I was not the author or the sole author of the elements of the newsletters that were at issue. Shouldn’t an effort be made to determine whether I am the author before these extreme steps are taken?
Sampson explained that “everyone knows” that Roy Bauer is the author and publisher of the ‘Vine and Dissent, that he is responsible for their elements. Then he turned to me and asked, “Are you?” He had never bothered to ask the question before. No one had. I refused to answer. Shaeffer referred to the 1st Amendment.
* * * * *
Eventually, the Chancellor got to the heart of the matter, insofar as it had a heart. Administration Regulation AR-4000.3, section 7, lists 15 “early warning signs of the potential for violence in the workplace.” Oddly enough, I had read through that list only two hours earlier. I remember telling Shaeffer that none of these “signs” applied to me, although I expected Sampson to claim that maybe one of them did.
Boy was I wrong. Sampson proceeded to go down the list, declaring in eight instances that the “sign” in question applied to me.
But not “warning sign” A, which is “any history of violent behavior.” Sampson turned to me and rudely barked, “Do you have a history of violent behavior?” “Of course not,” I said. We moved on.
“Warning sign” B describes
An extreme interest in or obsession with weapons; e.g., paramilitary training, weapons collections (often including semiautomatic weapons), and compulsive reading and collecting of gun magazines.
That’s me, said “doctor” Sampson: I’m obsessed with that stuff. Clearly.
Shaeffer and I looked at each other. Then we looked back at Sampson and asked: “And how does that one apply?” Answer: the newsletters have images of military aircraft, etc.
Now, in fact, literally hundreds of images have appeared in the ‘Vine and the Dissent, but only a handful have depicted weaponry. (I checked.) True, during the last days of the recall effort, a Dissent graphic placed Mr. Frogue in the pilot seat of a crashing W.W.II Nazi warplane. And for the December 7 issue, Mr. Frogue was depicted piloting a Japanese Zero. (Dec. 7 is Pearl Harbor day—and it is also the date of a board meeting in which many of us expected the trustees to “drop a bomb” on Pauline Merry, which they did.) These images have obvious meanings relative to the issues of the district, and those meanings fully explain the images; no reasonable person would cite the “warplane” graphics as evidence that their creators have an “obsession” with weaponry.
And consider: I own no guns and have never purchased a gun publication; I display no images of guns or weaponry at school or at home; and no one will say that I am in the habit of discussing weaponry in class or in any other setting.
Sampson’s “diagnosis”—that I am obsessed with weapons—is ludicrous.
It would be tedious to go through Sampson’s entire list of “warning signs” supposedly applicable to me. Suffice it to say that, according to “doctor” Sampson, I make threats, intimidate employees, have “failed” or “strained” relationships, hold grudges, am fascinated with incidents of workplace violence, disregard the safety of co-employees, and am under great stress.
(In tagging me with “sign” F—failed relationships, etc.—Sampson implied that my personal life is somehow extremely troubled. “What do you know about my personal life?”, I asked. “Well, you went through a divorce, didn’t you?” —Oh.)
* * * * *
At the end of the “warning signs” portion of our little meeting, Sampson declared that “referal to counseling is indicated.”
In his letter, Sampson had “urged” me to seek counseling. Now, without explanation, Sampson was upping the ante: he announced that I am “directed” to seek counseling. “‘Directed’ means ‘ordered,’” suggested Shaeffer. Sampson gestured affirmatively. Wow.
I was also “directed” to cease and desist in making “violent threats” and discriminating on the basis of race by referring to President Mathur as Mr. Goo.
How, we asked, is using the phrase Mr. Goo to refer to Raghu an instance of racial discrimination? Well, explained Sampson, Goo sounds like “gook,” and “gook” is a term of disparagement for Asians. “President Mathur,” explained Sampson, “is an Asian.”
I responded by noting that never—I mean never—had I associated the phrase Mr. Goo with the term “gook.” I said that I intended the term Mr. Goo as an allusion to “Mr. Magoo” and perhaps to, well, goo, the sticky substance. Besides, isn’t the term “gook” usually associated with Vietnam and the North Vietnamese?
“No no!”, said Sampson. “The term was used in World War II against Asians in general!” Sizelove nodded in solemn agreement: “Yes, it is applied to Indians, too,” she pronounced. Shaeffer guffawed. “But,” I said, “it isn’t World War II. It’s 1998, and nobody associates the term ‘gook’ with people born in India.”
Sampson made clear that he rejected my account of the term Mr. Goo. When he first encountered the moniker, he said, the first thing he thought of was “gook.” His reasoning seemed to be: “Goo is three-quarters of the way to ‘gook,’ and that clinches it! RACIST!”
Gee. I gave Sampson a collection of ‘Vines and Dissents in August, and I’ve been supplying him with new issues ever since—and he has happily taken them. They’re filled with references to Mr. Goo. If Sampson thought from the very beginning that our use of the phrase Mr. Goo is racist or offensive, why did he wait until now to say something about it?
* * * * *
Shaeffer then asked an important question: is the letter in Professor Bauer’s personnel file? “Yes.” He asked when it was placed there. Sampson referred to the date on the letter: Dec. 2. He said that the letter was placed in my file on Dec. 2 “or soon thereafter.”
Now, in fact, I did not receive the letter until about a week later. That means, Perry, that the letter was placed in my file before I knew of its existence—before, therefore, I had any chance to contest its assertions.
It is worth mentioning, I suppose, that section 4 of AR-4000.3 refers to the rights of the “accused”:
The supervisor in consultation with Human Resources and the college police should decide how to approach the accused. Fairness and due process require that the perpetrator’s side of the story be told.
No opportunity to tell my side of “the story” was provided before the accusatory letter was placed in my file. Further, during the meeting, Sampson did not ask me for my side of anything. Clearly, the point of the meeting was to explain what I had “done” and what I needed to do about that.
Shaeffer asked if Sampson knew who the author is of the various elements of the newsletters. Sampson said he “assumed” that I am the author. Shaeffer asked whether he had considered the possibility that there are multiple authors, editors, and distributors. Sampson said that I am “seen by everybody” to be the distributor of the newsletters and that it is “assumed” that I am the author of their elements.
A quick perusal of the newsletters quickly reveals, however, that at least one frequent contributor to the Dissent is a part-timer (I am not a part-timer) and that at least one other frequent contributor is a woman (I am not a woman). Further, obviously, that Sampson and others see me distributing the newsletters (I do indeed hand him a copy each week—and he always pleasantly thanks me) establishes neither that I am the sole distributor nor that I am the sole author or editor. Finally, that people commonly assume—if they do—that I am solely responsible for the newsletters hardly constitutes evidence for that belief. I have never made that assertion, nor am I inclined to make it.
Shaeffer suggested that, in truth, this whole “hostile work environment” business is just a way to get around the 1st Amendment. In reality, the Chancellor—and perhaps a certain trustee who gives him his orders each morning—are trying to stifle dissent, and charging a ‘Vine/Dissent contributor with “violent threats” and “racial discrimination” will serve that purpose. Or so they hope.
Sampson explained that I am threatening to people, and that, if the district does not take steps, it will later be held liable. “Look at it from our point of view,” he said. “People will say: ‘you had all these warning signs, and you ignored them.’”
Shaeffer suggested that no reasonable person would interpret the contents of the newsletters as violent or threatening. Sampson said, “Oh, yeah. Well, I’m not a reasonble person!” –Well, no.
Shaeffer asked what Sampson envisioned “counseling” to be. Answer: I am to seek a counselor through the Employee Assistance Program. I am to lay out for the counselor what I think my problem is, and I am to show him the letter.
“Why would he do that?”, asked Shaeffer.
It is an “opportunity,” said Sampson, to show that I have examined my “hatred and anger and resentment” concerning Mr. Mathur. Sampson added that, if I choose not to do these things, then that will be part of the record.
Shaeffer asked if this would be a district-wide policy. After all, perhaps dozens or even hundreds of employees are upset and frustrated these days. So will all these employees be ordered to seek counseling? “Blah blah blah,” said Sampson.
* * * * *
Things were winding down, but I really wanted to know what that “interfering with Christians” stuff was all about. I had no clue whatsoever. I pointed to the relevant section of his letter and asked the Chancellor to shed some light on the charge. “Surely, if I am going to be accused of such things, it is not unreasonable for me to ask what the accusation refers to,” said I.
Sampson thought about the matter a moment and then said he “didn’t know.”
“You don’t know?”, I said. “You put this accusation in the letter—a letter that is now placed in my personnel file—but you don’t know what it’s about?”
I honestly don’t remember how Sampson responded. At no point did he explain the nature of the accusation. He did explain that my accusers shall remain “anonymous.”
* * * * *
After the meeting, Shaeffer and I talked. We decided that Sampson had blown chunks.
Later in the day, I heard the following rumors from a friend: that (1) the district had already hired a law firm to deal with me—a request would be made for retroactive approval of the hire at the January 25 meeting—and (2) the district’s plan was to use my acceding to the counseling order—my going to a counselor to deal with my “anger” and “hatred”—as evidence that I am indeed disturbed—and the evidence would form the basis, or part of the basis, for my dismissal. “On no account,” said the friend, “should you accede to the order.”
Of course, if I don’t accede, they’ll try to dismiss me on the grounds that I’m insubordinate.
On the following Monday, I received another letter from the Chancellor, dated Dec. 18. It reiterated the “direction” I received the previous Friday. I am to see a counselor, it said, “for the purpose of addressing the anger and hate so openly displayed against the President of Irvine Valley College and other employees.”
I’ll keep you posted.
* * * * *
Like everyone, I am capable of flashes of anger and stupidity. But I hate no one. I suppose that’s true of a lot of people.
Though I can be unpleasantly and even boorishly direct, I have never been violent and am in fact gentle by nature. I don’t hate Raghu P. Mathur and I never have; and I certainly don’t mean him any harm. Am I opposed to his presidency? Yes. Do I oppose his conduct? Absolutely.
But opposition, even rude opposition, is not hatred. Neither is it violence. —BB
[AT ABOUT THE TIME I WROTE THE ABOVE ACCOUNT, I SECURED THE SERVICES OF ATTORNEY CAROL SOBEL OF SANTA MONICA.
I REFUSED TO GO TO COUNSELING.
I SUED THE DISTRICT. I WON. THE DISTRICT APPEALED. I WON THE APPEAL.]