Monday, August 16, 1999

Mathur's "unsightly clutter" episode

Obstructed Views
Window Cleanup Order Angers IVC Teachers
LA Times
August 02, 1999

Mathur
     On a campus already strained by deep tensions, professors at Irvine Valley College are in an uproar over a new policy that they say threatens the time-honored practice of decorating office doors and windows with the cartoons, clippings and fliers that reflect their humor and passions.
     Faculty representatives are threatening legal action over a memo teachers received last week telling them to remove any posters or signs they have displayed on their office windows or external doors.
     The college president, Raghu P. Mathur, says he is seeking only to protect the school from unsightly clutter.
     But professors allege the policy is a ploy to stifle their ongoing criticism of the school's leadership.
"This is such an absurd attack on the academic environment," said political science professor Traci Fahimi.
     Writing professor Andrew Tonkavich, who advises the student liberties club, says the restrictions are "more representative of a homeowners association than a vibrant community college."
     Like at many college campuses, the hallways and windows of Irvine Valley College are a panoply of personal expression.
     Signs on professors' doors and windows range from cartoons, newspaper clippings and announcements about grades and scholarships to sharp blows at Mathur. In one window, which faces the campus and can be seen from a distance, large signs proclaim "Mathur Must Go" and "Raghu Must Resign."
     And now, at least a dozen professors have added to their displays a large statement accusing district and school officials of "engaging in the political doublespeak common to totalitarian leaders—who want to brainwash the populace into accepting assaults on civil liberties and personal freedoms." To that statement, professors have signed their names.
     Mathur has been the target of faculty dissent since he took the school's helm in 1997. Even his selection was a matter of contention; he was chosen president on a 4-3 vote by the South Orange County Community College District's board of directors.
     In the aftermath of a blistering accreditation report that criticized the process leading to Mathur's appointment, the academic Senate—the faculty's elected leadership—called for his removal in February.
     Mathur denies that the policy memo, which was issued by the school's new vice president of student services, Armando Ruiz, under his direction, was meant to silence his critics.
     "We have opportunities available for people to post things, and we are trying to expand those opportunities by providing specific spaces for . . . expression of different ideas and so forth," Mathur says.
     According to the written policy, which was adopted by the board in April, students must have approval from the office of student services before they can display any sign or poster on campus. But even with a stamp of approval, displays are limited to certain bulletin boards.
     Although the policy does not specifically mention faculty, Mathur says instructors are covered by the policy's reference to members of the district community.
     Irvine Valley College officials say the policy is modeled after rules at UC Irvine.
     Indeed, fliers, signs and banners are limited to certain places on campus at UCI. But according to Randy Lewis, associate dean of students there, professors are free to post papers on their doors. And at UCI, neither faculty nor students are required to seek university approval before posting signs.
     “I don’t think any of the academic departments or schools have regulations against putting an announcement or flier on the door,” Lewis said….
     “We’re just trying to balance out the needs for freedom of expression along with maintaining a campus which is appealing and attractive to students, faculty and staff alike,” Mathur says….
     According to the Irvine Valley College memo, professors have until Sunday to remove their displays or the college will remove them….

A SPECIAL MEETING FOR SPECIAL PEOPLE
By Chunk Wheeler (Roy Bauer)
Dissent 27 - 8/16/99

     I attended most of the recent “special” board meeting, held on the 11th of August, which was not long after the media—first the Times and then OCN—covered Raghu Mathur’s amusing attempt to ban all signage from faculty windows and doors (at IVC)—especially those pesky anti-Mathur signs. He based his action on a preposterous reading of the district’s new “speech and advocacy” policy, a policy all parties had understood to apply only to students, not faculty and staff. The new policy, approved in April, is acknowledged by all parties to be a rip-off of UCI’s new rules, which, in fact, are not used to ban window and door signage from faculty doors at UCI, according to the Times.
     Media coverage especially on the 2nd and 3rd made Raghu and the district look like jerks. The situation was so bad that the Chancellor was forced to make a special damage-control trip to IVC (on the 3rd). Immediately after the visit, new Mathurian super-crony, VP of Student Services Armando “Glad Hand” Ruiz, issued another memo, this time rescinding the earlier order (to faculty) that had required removal of all signage by the 8th. It was only a temporary reprieve; the matter would be brought to the Board, wrote Ruiz, for review at the next meeting. The next meeting, of course, was the one on the 11th.
     The board meeting started at 3:10 with three-minute public comments. Leo Galcher (a unionist who, in November, had run against the faculty union’s anti-unionist candidate, Nancy Padberg) attempted to make a point about the Y2K problem but was ruled “out of order” by a thrillingly forceful Dorothy “Dot” Fortune, board president. Galcher, turning now to plan B, distributed literature about the Brown Act (i.e., the California anti-secrecy in government law), implying that the Board needed guidance in that area. Next, he commented on tonight’s hot potato, the speech and advocacy policy (5406) and Mathur’s stunningly stupid and transparently self-serving interpretation of it. Galcher found the timing of Mathur’s action—the dead of summer—interesting and suggested that this whole flap probably cost the district some enrollments.
     Next, a guy named “Mike” came up and didn’t say anything; not sure why. He seemed pleasant.
     Next, Traci Fahimi, IVC’s full-time Poli-Sci instructor, remarked on the new policy and its new Mathurian interpretation. In that connection, she asked the board to consider the meaning of the 1st Amendment. Alluding to the “debate” about Mathur, etc., that rages at IVC, she noted that the Constitution especially protects the challenging speech of minorities, not the speech agreeable to the majority. She added that the policy of banning signage from faculty windows and doors would have absurd consequences—no maps, etc.—and surely she was right. When she finished, the small crowd of about 20 applauded, causing Dot to glare and glower and hiss.
Fahimi
     The Dotted One then announced that the “regular meeting” would begin. Three recommended actions—concerning the Saddleback Community Ed. Schedule, a mentoring program, and Saddleback staff development—were each unanimously approved by a visibly Bored Board.
     This brought us to the main event—the “speech and advocacy” policy. According to the agenda, it was recommended that the policy be “reviewed” “to clarify intent.” (That, therefore, was the motion.) Fortune blathered forth some introductory remarks. Mathur, it seems, had taken upon himself interpreting the policy as applying to faculty, and so the “intent” of the policy is now at issue, said she. Sampson weighed in by noting that the policy’s language starts out sounding as though it has “general” application, but then, later, it speaks exclusively of students. (Quod erat demonstrandum, baby.)
     Mathur said nothing during this discussion. Wonder why.
     Fortune quickly established a redolent peevitude that never dissipated. We had discussed this damn business for over a year, she said. Everybody was involved—a lawyer, the ACLU, students, my Aunt Minnie, et al. We did everything right, she declared. In the end, we adopted UCI’s new policy, and, she noted, at the time, no complaints were heard from the two Academic Senates. So what’s all this infernal caterwauling?!
     Naturally, Dot didn’t know what she was talking about. For instance, she implied that the ACLU had embraced the UCI-based policy. Nope; in fact, the ACLU lawyer expressed serious misgivings about it and never ceased doing so.
     Fortune also implied that, having agreed to the policy in April, the faculty now suddenly objected to it. That’s nonsense. In April, the approved policy was understood by all parties to apply to students, not faculty. Indeed, the policy’s number is among those reserved for student policies, and the whole damn business of writing a new “speech and advocacy” policy emerged from a suit brought by two students who said that their right to speak was being violated (by Mathur). Dot’s remarks, therefore, were offensively misleading.
     Trustee Milchiker noted that she had voted against the policy back in April and still didn’t like it. It certainly shouldn’t apply to faculty, said she.
     Trustee Padberg seemed to say that, since the policy resulted from litigation, the board is prevented from making any changes to it. We can’t change 5406, but we can clarify it, she said, absurdly. She recommended the following: for now, faculty offices should be excluded from the policy. The Chancellor, however, should take up the matter of the policy’s intent with a committee in order to produce a “companion policy.” Williams seconded Padberg’s proposal (which was an amendment to the motion to review the policy in order “to clarify intent”).
     Fortune whined and squawked. She said that the Board had followed the “shared governance process” and so things should be left alone, goddamit. She took umbrage at the suggestion (Traci’s?) that the policy violates IVC faculty’s 1st Amendment rights. After all, said she, no one is freer in this world to speak and write than those boisterous IVC instructors! (Unless, that is, they happen to be instructors who edit a newsletter named “Dissent.”)
     A befuddled Trustee Frogue expressed unclarity about this talk of a new policy. He was quickly apprised of the main facts. Then, popping briefly into lucidity, he asked whether the UCI policy had been tested. No clear answer emerged, as I recall.
     Next, Trustee Wagner spoke. He seemed OK with Trustee Padberg’s proposal, but he noted that there already exists a policy (4054, I think) that speaks to some of these issues. He seemed very frustrated. He rocked his chair, tapped his feet, and played with his pen even more frenetically than usual.
     Tamara C, representing IVC classified staff, chimed in by asking if Padberg’s proposal means to exclude, for now, classified staff from the purview of 5406. She noted that, when the original order was rescinded, it was made clear (at least to her) that it was rescinded for staff, too.
     The answer was, I think, that only faculty would be excluded and that the “no signage” order would now apply to staff big time! (That was exceedingly odd; why should only faculty, and not staff, be excluded from a policy that, prima facie, doesn’t apply to faculty or staff, but only to students?)
     Trustee Milchiker hoped that all employees could be treated equally, if possible.
     Peter M of the IVC Academic Senate urged the board to “be clear” about one point: had the senates thought that the policy applied to faculty, they would never have approved it or failed to object to it back in April. 5406 was always understood to be a student policy, said he. Saddleback’s Maureen Smith agreed. Tamara nodded agreement. So did I, but nobody cared.
Tonkovich
     Trustee Lang suggested an amendment to Padberg’s proposal: for now, all members of the district community (aside from students) should be excluded from the purview of the policy, until the needed clarification is achieved. Padberg thought Lang was making the exclusion “pretty broad.” “Intentionally so,” replied Lang.
     Fortune broke in to read endlessly from the policy, and then she said something. I’m not sure what she said, ‘cuz I tuned out, but it had that “you mean to tell me!” feel to it. Everyone ignore her and rolled their eyes, which only increased her agitation and peevitude.
     Chancellor Sampson suggested that Lang’s amendment would make the policy difficult to interpret. (I don’t know why.) He noted that, traditionally, faculty doors and windows are viewed as private zones, but the public does not view staff offices as private. That may be unfair, but that’s the way it is, he said.
     Milchiker again expressed her fluffy egalitarian notions. The staff can be trusted not to exceed the bounds of decency, she suggested.
     The Chancellor responded by saying, again, that it’s just a “reality” that staff offices are different from faculty offices. He then described his visit to IVC on the 3rd, where he found, he said, “inappropriate and unidentified” statements about threats to IVC’s accreditation in a public place. In fact, the offending fliers (posted in A200 by the Student Liberties Club) assert that “our accreditation is in jeopardy” and that students need to “speak up and take a stand” against the Mathurian regime, which is the locus of the Accrediting Commission’s worries about IVC. Sampson fretted that someone might interpret these fliers (which look unofficial and are clearly identified as belonging to the Student Liberties Club) as “official” statements.
     Lang’s proposal, 2nded by Milchiker, to amend the motion to exclude all employees for now from the policy’s purview failed.
     Fortune returned to Padberg’s original proposal. Dot assured the Senates that it was not her intention to restrict rights—that, for now, the policy would not be applied to “faculty offices.”
     Peter asked if he understood what was being proposed. A body will now meet—and invite faculty—and come up with a policy? Is that it? Tamara expressed unclarity about the proposed plan. Classified employees had been told that the policy would not apply to classified afterall, at least for now. Are they now being told something else? She also noted that no memo had ever been sent to Saddleback faculty and staff about broad application of the “speech and advocacy” policy. What’s that all about? (Bullock was asked to respond; I don’t know what she said. Probably: “You can count on me, whatever.”)
     Lang ventured that the entire policy should be reviewed, not just this “application” issue. He reminded everyone of the debate, last April, concerning whether the new policy should be adopted as administrative regulations or board policy (v. Irvine World News, 4/29/99). That problem needs to be straightened out, he said. This suggestion took flight like a lead balloon.
     Eventually, Wagner noted that, in his view, faculty belong in the discussions of the policy.
Fortune restated Padberg’s proposal: for now, faculty offices would be excluded from the policy’s purview. In the meantime, a “companion” policy (for faculty/staff?) would be worked out. The proposal passed. (It seems to me that the proposal, as it was worded, did not guarantee faculty involvement in this “review” and “clarification” process.)
     Peter noted that the “exception” clause of the motion did not extend to other areas beyond faculty offices—e.g., classrooms. “Is that right?”, he asked. In response, Fortune kept saying, in her most patronizing manner, that, “We can work it out, Mr. Morrison.”
     Frogue seemed befuddled again. “Is this a motion or an amendment?”, he asked. Someone said, “Good God.” A snore ripped through the night.
     Wagner addressed Peter’s question, saying that educational materials would not be affected. Peter said he appreciated the clarification.
     And that was about it.
     Peevish Dot then rushed everyone on to item #5, something about grant applications (which ultimately concerned the district’s forming a relationship with a private company to set up a “Center for Digital Innovation.”). A woman named Marlee B was asked to come to the stand and answer questions, and she did, but, soon, she was even more peevish than Dot. Some seemed to feel that it is unclear whether Ms. B is a Director or a Dean, and nothing would be right in this world until that matter were settled decisively. Such thinking caused others to roll their eyes and snort. “Who gives a sh*t!” said a patrician woman sitting near me.
     The nature of the Trustees’ discussion of Ms. B’s job seemed mightily to annoy her at one point. She opined that the discussion was “inappropriate.” Wow.
     At another point, speaking mostly to Dot, she said, I think: “Do you want me to pursue grants or not?” Cool! Later, Dot said to Marlee: “I don’t want to debate this with you!” Later still, Dot spoke of her desire not to be a “rube,” a reference to the district’s recent bad experiences with private companies. Throughout, Chancellor Sampson seemed to side with Ms. B, noting that no venture is risk-free, but to no avail. At one point, he declared that one of Dot’s issues was “a trivial item,” and Dot hissed at ‘im.
     “We’ve been misused!”, declared Dot. “It’s not asking too much to get good information!” Dot yammered in that vein for some time. Ms. B sporadically responded to such sentiments by identifying misconceptions and misunderstandings that seemed to burden Dot and her Dotettes (Frogue, et al.). This went on and on for hours, it seemed. My eyelids became very heavy.
     At one point, John “Union Boy” Williams intoned, “If we build it, they will come.” He was referring, I guess, to a 45,000 square foot facility at the Tustin base, which was at the heart of item #5, I guess. I was in a coma, so I’m not sure.
     In the end, they put the whole matter on the back burner and Marlee stalked off as Cedric preened and cooed and Frogue stared into a corner with a quizzical expression.
     During the recess, my pal Steve came up and told me that he had met my Doppelganger in Austria this summer. I didn’t know what to say. So I said that I’d never been in Austria.
     After the break, Wagner dived into the issue of “district institutional membership”—that is, the district’s paying memberships to various organizations. This had come up during the previous meeting, which I missed—a real doozy, I’m told. I’m also told that Mr. Wagner was bothered by the fact that one organization to which the district paid dues (the American Association of University Women?) had “Hanoi” Jane Fonda as a spokesperson. Good Lord! Imagine that!
     Wagner raised this issue again on the 11th. But he also told the board that there is an anti-airport organization—ETRPA—that the district ought to consider a membership in. After all, he said, an airport would have an impact on learning, etc., what with the swooping and roaring of jets, and so forth. He also seemed to say that we should not have memberships in organizations that are basically political, especially if their political goals don’t jibe with the agendas of Trustees’ constituencies.
     Lang noted, dryly, that ETRPA itself is clearly political. So there would seem to be a conflict here. Laughter.
     Padberg repeatedly suggested sending a letter to organizations asking that our dues not go to political activities. Sampson seemed to say that such a letter would be “confusing” to organizations we sent it to. He also noted that, as members of the Community College League (or some such thing), we support lobbying in Sacramento.
     At some point, it was noted that the AAUW has given many thousands of dollars in scholarships to district (especially Saddleback) students. President Mathur noted that IVC has not given membership dues to the organization, a claim soon rebutted (and maybe refuted) by Mr. Wagner’s data.
     Trustee Wagner proposed that the district not give dues to AAUW, since its sole reason to exist is to promote a particular political agenda. He said he wants to be utterly consistent about this, so we should not give dues to conservative groups with a political agenda either.
     Trustee Milchiker said that it is best to weigh the good done by an organization (e.g., scholarships for students) against the “bad” of its political activities, which she characterized as “errors in judgment.” So, in that spirit, she supported AAUW. So did Frogue, who noted that the organization “supports women.”
     Dot explained that many other organizations to which the district pay dues are also political: the California Bar Association, the Society for Ecological Restoration, MLA, the Flat Earth Society, etc. In the end, Wagner’s motion failed, 5/2.
     At about that point, drool formed in one corner of my mouth, and so I got outa there fast. Who knows what else these jokers did.

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