Professor, college leaders at odds over newsletters
By Laura Hayes
But as the plaintiff in lawsuits against those authorities and as the creator of two underground newsletter, “The Vine” and “The Dissent,” Bauer may now become the lightening rod for possible district action.
Chancellor Cedric Sampson warned Bauer in December that aspects of his writings and artwork in issues of “The Dissent” has caused concerns of potential workplace violence to arise. The chancellor advised Bauer to seek counseling. [Note: on the 18th of Dec., Bauer was “directed” to seek counseling.]
In response, Bauer filed a lawsuit against the chancellor and the district on Dec. 31, claiming violation of his First Amendment rights. Carol Sobel, a Los Angeles attorney specializing in First Amendment issues and lawyer to two Irvine Valley students who filed a case with the ACLU against the district last spring, is working on his behalf. Bauer is also seeking legal representation from the California Teachers Association.
Sampson, in his letter to Bauer, said that individuals have complained the newsletters are creating a hostile work environment and fear among district employees. Cartoons, fantasy stories and commentary from “The Dissent” were extracted as examples of violation of district policies pertaining to workplace violence and discrimination and harassment. One citation was the metaphorical account of a trustee’s demise.
Sampson’s letter said, “It’s like a person going on an airplane and making a joke about a bomb. This is not a First Amendment issue, it relates to district policy.
“Employees of the district have certain responsibilities,” he said. “We’re not interested in restricting the freedom of speech.”
Sampson said the district uses a checklist of warning signs to determine actions concerning employees, but he did not comment further on Bauer’s case or the impending lawsuit.
“I haven’t seen the suit, but we will respond,” he said. According to Sampson, the district is taking action now because of a change in the tone of the newsletters.
Bauer is a graduate of the UC Irvine department of philosophy and has taught at the community college district since 1986. He said his personnel file contained nothing but a perfect record and glowing evaluations until now.
He claimed his newsletters have not changed and one issue among 35 has been held up as the only criteria by which he is being judged.
Debbie Burbridge, a Cal Poly Pomona student who attended Irvine Valley last semester and is still a part time student there, started a student rights club on campus last spring. She questioned the district’s timing and singling out of Bauer.
“He’s been writing it for 18 months and only now they’re reprimanding him. I’ve been reading it for six or seven months and it’s always been that way. For me, it was really informative, because I couldn’t go to all the board meetings and I relied on “The Dissent” for what was going on. I find his sense of humor satirical. I didn’t take it very seriously at all. If anyone knows Roy he’s the most soft-spoken and non-violent person you can imagine.“
Jody Hoy, a professor in the humanities and languages department, said, “People say he’s creating a hostile working environment, it’s not true. It’s a response to a hostile environment. It’s a refusal to accept a hostile environment.”
Pam Zanelli, acting district public affairs officer, said. “It’s a workplace. Whether you agree with him, or disagree we all have to work here. Some of it is political lampooning. It is very clever, very creative. But over time you see different people react. It ranges from uncomfortable to fearful.”
Wendy Phillips, Irvine Valley instructor and Bauer’s attorney in two other cases against the district involving alleged violations of state laws requiring open board meetings, said the singling out of Bauer is retaliatory. “Very, very clearly, the newsletters are not creating a hostile working environment.”
By claiming to enforce a policy, Phillips said, the district is abbreviating an employee’s rights. “Employees are still citizens of the United States.
“In my opinion, Roy’s cartoons and writings are just like those you find in the L.A. Times. They are just trying to drum up a case against him,” she said. Phillips said the actions against Bauer could represent a serious threat to the rights of other faculty members as well.
Bauer takes most of the heat and credit for the news sheets, but they often are compilations of information from public and not-so-public sources. Various writers with pseudonyms contribute humorous, straight and satirical commentary. The publications also contain excerpts or whole articles from newspapers.
“My primary intention is to keep members of the district community informed. Also to express the frustrations they themselves feel about the place,” said Bauer.
“I got into this whole thing because I take seriously principles and ethics. When I see good people being fired or being pressured to leave the district, violations of procedures, violations of state law, corrupt politicians lying to communities, I feel an obligation to throw in with others.”
Bauer said accurate accounts of events are important to him. In-depth descriptions of public board meetings in his newsletters are coupled with background information and Baueresque editorial touches. The juicy stuff—confidential letters, memos and conversations—don’t remain in the dark long once Bauer publishes them.
What about the extras? Graphics include Bauer’s favorite targets, Irvine Valley President Raghu Mathur and “board majority” members Dorothy Fortune, Steven Frogue, John Williams and former trustee Teddi Lorch, with a host of other district characters. Their photos are stretched and distorted in often unflattering poses. Mathur, a favorite Bauer target, has been cast as Napoleon, Alfred E. Newman and Elvis shaking hands with Richard Nixon.
“The Vine” and “The Dissent” emerged as an unsanctioned outcry from some on the Irvine Valley campus after four trustees voted down their three colleagues to make major changes in the district over two volatile years.
Lawsuits were brought against the board concerning two specific actions. The board set aside traditional hiring practices in appointing chemistry professor Raghu Mathur as president and they changed the administrative structure of the district and the college, replacing faculty chairs at Irvine Valley with deans from Saddleback College. Faculty chairs were tenured professors and enjoyed a certain degree of independence. Deans and vice presidents do not. As newly elected Trustee Don Wagner stated in a recent letter to the editor of the Irvine World News, “administrators at institutions of higher education do not have tenure, but serve at the pleasure of their superiors.”
Wagner said he is not familiar with Bauer’s publications. In one issue he read, Wagner said, Bauer made some substantive points about college and district problems. But Wagner added, Bauer’s “rhetoric” won’t accomplishes his purposes and won’t win him any friends.
“If his purpose is to air legitimate grievances, I think he could go about it in a more measured way,” said Wagner.
“He has very definite opinions. He’s a player and he’s involved in these problems. He’s someone I’d like to work with,” he said.
But Wagner said from what he’s seen, the newsletter is not persuasive to those outside Bauer’s audience. “He’s preaching to the choir.”