From DISSENT 51
MATHUR DISMISSES ANOTHER CHAIR:
—But then El Ced comes to the chair’s rescue, and simpers
By Chunk Wheeler
July 1, 1997: at 7:00 a.m., interim IVC president Raghu P. Mathur holds an emergency meeting of chairs and administrators regarding his recent action of dismissing Social and Behavioral Sciences Chair Wendy Phillips. Mathur had charged Phillips with failing to accord him the proper respect.
At the start of the meeting, he declares that there will be no questions. Accompanying his words with vigorous finger tapping, he thunders: “You are obligated to toe the line, and toe the line you will!” A few minutes later he adds that “Disloyalty will not be tolerated!”
There is silence. Horribly, a chair squeaks. Later, Mathur has the chair taken out back and shot.
I arrive late. Hence, when Mathur completes his “address,” which takes less than ten minutes, I immediately ask him a question. Hatred flashes in his eyes. Everyone looks at me and whispers: “No questions!”
“No questions?” I ask. “How in hell can there be no questions?”
August 30, 2000: it’s a Wednesday, and I finish my 8:00 a.m. class. I’m kinda peevish because a student just complained about the classroom clock, which, he said, is “way wrong.” It is. It’s been displaying “3:30” for years.
After class, I hang around the IVC administration building (A100) in order to admire the expensively framed “inspirational” posters that IVC President Raghu P. Mathur has hung there. One of ‘em shows an eagle in a tree and says: “A true leader…does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions….”
I’ve been told this stuff cost the college $1,200.
* * * * *
At one point, over in the corner, I hear people talking about a chair. A draw closer. “A chair?” I ask. “Yeah, a chair,” they answer. One person explains that President Mathur ordered a new chair for his office and that it just now arrived in “the warehouse.”
“How strange,” I think. Hadn’t Raghu received a new set of office furniture not so very long ago? –Yeah, now I remember: he also ordered a new phone ($500) plus a shitload of self-improvement books and tapes ($118).
They didn’t take.
“The chair’s big and expensive,” someone says. “Real expensive.”
Hmmm. That sure sounds like a misuse of college funds to me. I make a mental note of it.
* * * * *
A few minutes later, I’m photocopying handouts for my 11:00 class in A200. Some colleagues are hangin’ around, and I share with them what I just heard about the president’s “expensive chair.” One colleague speculates that Raghu really does need a massive high-backed chair, owing to his “bald spot,” which, says the colleague, has grown very “large and hideous and shiny,” and which reflects light beams from within A100. Those beams, she adds, routinely blind and flummox students who pass by his office window.
Another colleague suggests that the President really can’t use a large chair, owing to “the curse of feet danglage.” “Mathur is vertically challenged,” she adds. “Podiatric danglage,” she continues, “is particularly nettlesome to the Gooster, what with those nasty little feet of his. So I don’t buy this ‘big chair’ story for a second. Not for a second.” She sniffs.
I say: “No, it looks like Raghu’s really ordered a large chair all right. Besides, he might’ve ordered an ottoman, too.” Everyone nods.
The discussion continues as we walk through a door (propped open with a chunk of wood), wander down the hall, and then enter the “lounge.” Unfailingly, A200’s roof leaks during rains, causing flood damage, and so, last spring, someone decided to tear out the stinking lounge carpet and replace it with stinking linoleum tiles. As a result, the “lounge” now has all the homeyness of a shiny new coroner’s office.
Priscilla and Kathy’s office, which faces the lounge, still sports some of that stinking carpet, and it plainly displays the high-water mark of the last flood. During the Deluge, unspeakable biological specimens floated from Priscilla’s shelves down the hall to places unknown. Or so I’m told. Nobody wants to know where that stuff ended up.
* * * * *
Later, at about 12:15, I wander back to the lounge, and I find two Wendys, one of whom is equipped with a camera, owing, she says, to her enrollment in a photography course. Addressing the two, I say: “Hey, I heard that President Raghu P. Mathur ordered a big expensive chair and it’s over at the warehouse. Wanna help me investigate this apparent misuse of taxpayer funds?”
As we leave A200, I notice that the door to the outside has almost rusted clean through at the bottom. “I bet one of those rats we’re always seein’ could bust right through that,” I say. As we slam the door, a chunk of rust busts off. The camera-equipped Wendy beams.
When we arrive at the warehouse, we can find no chair. Nevertheless, within a few minutes, we determine that the thing is being kept in the trailer next to the parking office. We head over there.
As we approach the trailer park, we find several classified employees jawing outside. We ask them some questions and trade pleasant jibes. The boys direct us to the trailer on the left, which is marked “maintenance and operations.” The door is unlocked. We enter.
The trailer, which comprises a secretarial area on the left and two work areas on the right, is empty, evidently. Over in the area immediately to the right—a wide-open and unmarked room—we spot a large leather chair, wrapped in plastic. It’s as plain as day. We step inside the room. Affixed to the chair’s clear plastic covering is an invoice, which indicates that it is a “La-Z-Boy presidential highback.” It’s price: a whopping $1,085.98! I write down the information.
Covered in handsome black leather, the chair sports brass studs along its impressive sides. From directly behind, it looks like a horse’s ass on casters.
One of the Wendys starts to take pictures. We photograph the invoice with great care. “I hope you know how to use that camera,” I say to Wendy. She chirps and beams.
After a minute or so, some guy enters the building, and, since we got what we wanted, we leave.
We tell everyone we can find about the president’s new chair. People are shocked—shocked!—that Raghu would spend over a thousand dollars of taxpayer money on a chair for his office. “Doesn’t he already have a chair?” they ask. “Why would he buy such an expensive chair?”
* * * * *
Later, I run into an employee who seems preoccupied. Standing outside B100, she declares that she is “sick and tired” of the toilet paper deficit in the women’s bathrooms. I commiserate. “Yeah,” I say. “You should see the men’s bathroom over in A400. The mirror is all tagged up, all kinds of stuff has been ripped off of the walls, and it generally looks like a war zone in there. On the other hand, the urinals are industrial strength. Way cool.”
August 31, 2000: it’s Thursday morning, and I hear a rumor that someone has tipped off the president regarding the faculty’s knowledge of his highfalutin new chairage. Reportedly, Raghu responds by ordering that the chair be returned to the store immediately.
“Jeez,” I think. “That’s the same as a confession.”
I make inquiries as to the chair’s whereabouts and learn that it is back in the warehouse. Accompanied by a few denizens of A200, I walk over to investigate.
We find what seems to be The Chair over by the west wall, again covered in clear plastic. I examine it and decide that it’s the very chair we spotted yesterday in that abandoned trailer. Someone tells us that, now, the darned thing is being sent back to the store.
As I head back to A200, I observe others making the pilgrimage to The Thousand-Dollar Chair. Evidently, word about it has spread all over campus.
* * * * *
Later, I run into Rebel Girl, who is smiling. She explains that she has told one of the student reporters about Raghu’s chair. The kid, she says, seems to think that there is a news story in it, so he headed over to the warehouse to investigate. Later, she now tells me, he returned with a photographer, but, by then, the chair had been covered with opaque plastic. This only piqued the journalists’ interests. The photographer took what pictures he could, lifting the chair’s dark skirt.
* * * * *
After my 12:30 class, I drop in during the IVC Academic Senate meeting, but it’s a real snoozefest, so I head back to my office. After a few minutes of reflection, I decide to drop a note to some trustees. I quickly compose and send the following email:
Dear Don, Marcia, Dave, and Nancy:
Yesterday, while in the administration building, I heard a rumor that our president, Mr. Raghu P. Mathur, had ordered a chair for his office and that it just arrived, though it had not yet been delivered to A100...I did some research and discovered the whereabouts of the chair. When I found it, it was covered with plastic upon which was attached an invoice. Apparently, the chair—a “La-Z-Boy presidential highback”—cost the college $1,085.98. I can testify that it is indeed presidential. It is a chair fit for a king!
Today, I was told that the President somehow became concerned that faculty had learned of the purchase. Oddly (I’m told), he has ordered that the chair be sent back to the store. (McMahan’s I think.
I certainly hope that my little inquiry yesterday didn’t discourage the president from using college funds for something of such manifest importance to our mutual endeavor of “serving the students” in a fiscally responsible fashion. I would raise the matter with him myself, but he owes me a lot of money, and I don’t want to embarrass him.
Perhaps one of you can intercede and explain to the President that he should feel entitled to spend a grand on a chair, given what a grand job he’s done for this college. (No doubt, the downward trend in enrollments…is a temporary situation. I sure hope so.)
Hope you’re all doing well. I’m doing fine.
September 1, 2000: it’s 12:45, and I get a cell-phone call from Wendy P, who’s been teaching all morning. She tells me that she has just served Raghu Mathur with papers regarding his “Judgment Debtor’s Exam.”
I should explain. You see, back in January of 2000, Mr. Goo filed a suit against Terry Burgess—and me—regarding my reports (in three issues of Dissent) regarding Mathur’s violation of a student’s right to privacy as delineated by a federal law (FERPA). That Mathur had violated that law was, at any rate, the conclusion of the district’s lawyer, Spencer Covert (yes, Covert—I’m not makin’ this stuff up!), who had been asked, by then-IVC president Dan Larios, to provide an opinion on the matter. Ironically, Mathur, a man who can neither detect nor pronounce irony, believes that the Dissent stories amounted to a violation of his privacy rights, and so he sued us for $50,000. According to Mathur, the only way I could have secured the documents I reported on was through the help of Terry Burgess, formerly the VP of Instruction. (That’s nonsense. The documents had been readily available on campus for years.) Thus Burgess was included in the suit.
Unfortunately for the Gooster, the great state of California has a law (the anti-SLAPP statute) designed to protect citizens from lawsuits that are filed by powerful interests—developers, politicians, et al.—merely in order to silence legitimate criticism. SLAPP suits are burdensome annoyances, or worse, for defendants, but they produce a chilling effect on potential criticism by others as well. They thwart free speech.
To make a long story short, we responded to Mathur’s suit by appealing to the anti-SLAPP statute, which yielded a quick dismissal. In court, Judge Brenner noted that my Dissent reports were both true and newsworthy and that, further, there was no evidence whatsoever that Burgess provided the information regarding Mathur that I had reported. In fact, he hadn’t.
As per the law, Brenner ordered Mathur to pay Burgess and me costs and attorneys fees. That amounted to $34,000 and change. Ouch! That occurred months ago.
But, as of this day (Sept. 1), Mathur hasn’t paid. In such situations, the prevailing side files for a “Judgment Debtor Exam.” Once it is granted, the “judgment debtor” is served papers that inform him that he must appear in court on a certain date. “If you fail to appear…you may be subject to arrest and punishment,” say the documents.
On August 29th, Carol Sobel, my attorney, filed for a debtor’s exam for Mathur. The order was granted on that day. So, on this day—the 1st of September—Wendy serves Raghu with the papers:
“Hi Raghu. I’ve got something for you!” chirps Wendy.
He stares but doesn’t move. She hands him the papers, smiling broadly.
Eventually, he takes them, glumly thanks her, and then disappears behind the door of his office.
Later, someone tells me that she thinks she heard Mathur crying and banging his head against a chair. But she isn’t sure.
Could be, though. The document orders Mathur to bring 27 kinds of document, including
All checkbooks, registers, and canceled checks for all savings, checking, credit union, bank, mutual fund accounts and/or all other accounts owned by you and/or you and your spouse for the past three years…All payroll check stubs for you and/or your spouse for the past three years…All passbooks for savings, checking, credit union, bank, mutual fund accounts, and/or all other accounts owned by you and/or your spouse for the past three years…All financial statements listing your assets…during the past three years…All stock registers or other records of stocks presently owned by you…All documents evidencing any partnership interest in property owned by you…All credit card applications…Ownership documents…Your state and federal income tax returns for the past thee years…
—and so on. Jeez, I’d cry too. The exam is set for September 19th.
September 5, 2000: It’s the day after Labor Day, and I’m at school. I hear a rumor that Nelson C, head of maintenance, has asked campus police for the form to report an “unusual occurrence.” I make inquiries. Sure enough, that’s what he’s done. But what’s the unusual occurrence? Mathur’s purchase? Yeah, that’s pretty unusual all right.
In the hallway, someone tells me that someone he knows recently met Mike Corfield, Mathur’s hapless attorney. Supposedly, they asked Corfield about Raghu. “He’s the worst client I’ve ever had,” responded Corfield. Or so he said she said.
* * * * *
I go back to my office. I lean back in my chair and think. The chair issues a lugubrious squawk.
* * * * *
When I arrive home, a find a phone message informing me that, according to Corfield, Mathur wants to settle. In return for a reduction in the award, he will pay the entire debt in one cash payment, thereby rendering the “exam” unnecessary.
I confer with the lawyers.
September 6, 2000: it’s the morning, and I’m in A200, standing atop a water stain. Someone accosts me and says, “It’s back!”
She drags me outside to the window of Mathur’s office. We peer inside and see Raghu and his Amazing Techno-leather Dreamchair. He looks like a midget in a tree, purring.
“That’s not it. That’s Naugahyde,” I declare, referring to the chair, not to Raghu.
“Nope. It’s leather. Plus, look at the brass studs.”
Sure enough, those brass studs are ashinin’. Lots of ‘em.
“It’s the chair,” I say, charily.
* * * * *
It’s the afternoon, and I’m home. I get a call from my attorney, Carol. “He’s agreed to pay $32,000 cash,” she says.
Evidently, he wanted to pay with a personal check. Nothin’ doin’, said Carol. She insisted on a cashier’s check, she says.
September 11, 2000: it’s the morning, and I’m at IVC. Someone tells me that they have it on good authority that Raghu kept the chair owing to the Chancellor’s insistence.
* * * * *
I arrive home. There’s a message from Carol. She has received the check. She sounds chirpy.
* * * * *
I leave for the House of Humor to buy a Whoopie Cushion. –CW