Fuentes' Cuban adventure
From Dissent 57, February 14, 2001
[Years before Tom Fuentes decided to nix the “study abroad” trip to Santander, Spain, on the grounds that “Spain has abandoned our fighting men and women,” he pretty much did the same thing to the Cuba trip:]
COLD WARRIORS, HOT DAMN!
College's Cuba trip bothers trustees
EDUCATION: The study-abroad venture has been OKd by Saddleback College's president.
January 27, 2001
By MARLA JO FISHER
The Orange County Register
MISSION VIEJO - Trustees are balking at the idea of a Saddleback College-sponsored study trip to Cuba, saying it would not be appropriate to allow students to go to a communist country with a record of human-rights violations, according to a student trustee who favors the trip.
Trustees who criticized the Cuba trip in November approved a study visit to the People's Republic of China during the same meeting, student trustee Jason Wamhoff said.
"The students want this trip," Wamhoff said Friday. "It is already full. And China has more human-rights violations than Cuba does."
The trip would mark the first time that the South Orange County Community College District has organized a study-abroad program with the Caribbean island nation. Until early 1999, U.S. citizens were banned from traveling to Cuba because of politics, but cultural and educational exchanges are permitted.
Dozens of colleges and universities, including Duke, Tulane and American universities, offer study-abroad programs in Cuba, but Saddleback would be the only community college locally to offer such a trip.
California State University, Fullerton, has a faculty-student exchange program with the communist Republic of Vietnam.
Saddleback's program was approved by Saddleback President Dixie Bullock and the district's acting chancellor before it was sent to the trustees.
Bullock said she signed off on the trip because it had been approved by the college's Study Abroad Committee, even though she's not sure how she personally feels. She vetoed the same trip last year, because the college had not received permission from the U.S. Department of Treasury to qualify it as an educational trip. This year permission came through.
"I still have mixed feelings about it, because I worked with Cuban refugees when I was in Texas," Bullock said. "But if a faculty member comes to me with a proposal that is done properly, approved up through the line and I don't have any specific objections, I'll approve it."
The college district's written policy on study-abroad programs does not ban visits to communist countries, though it specifies that students should be fully apprised of any potential dangers.
The proposed Saddleback trip, entirely funded through $2,250-per-student fees, would consist of a 10-day visit to Havana, where students would earn credit while they visit historical sites, attend concerts and discussions on topics such as the sugar industry, political affairs, international relations and health care.
Two trustees — Tom Fuentes and Dorothy Fortune — were questioning the appropriateness of the trip, Wamhoff said. Neither returned phone calls Friday.
Minutes from the November trustees meeting were unavailable because they have not yet been completed, a secretary in the district office said.
Peter Sanchez, partner in Cuba Tours and Travel LLC, a Los Angeles-based company that organizes educational tours for colleges, agreed that the destination is controversial.
"Cuba is a country with a lot of issues to deal with, but I think it's important for people to gain more understanding of the problems there," Sanchez said. "I think people-to-people contact is what will change things over there."
Wamhoff said he hopes to recruit students to attend Monday's upcoming board meeting to support the trip.
"The board is constantly talking about low enrollments, and here's a program that is an excellent attraction and an innovative study-abroad program. They should allow it," Wamhoff said.
College trustees reject Cuban trip
January 30, 2001
By MARLA JO FISHER and JOAN HANSEN
The Orange County Register
MISSION VIEJO - Students at Saddleback College won't be going on a school-sponsored trip to Cuba after trustees voted 5-2 Monday to abort the first-ever study-abroad program to the island nation.
"The liability to the district is enormous to send students to Cuba, whether we have insurance or the perfect tour operator or not," college trustee Dorothy Fortune said. "If there are any problems, they are going to sue us."
About 15 students attended Monday's meeting of the South Orange County Community College District to ask the trustees to approve the program, which was reportedly so popular it was oversubscribed.
The college received permission from the U.S. Treasury Department to travel to Cuba.
Dozens of colleges, including Duke and Emory universities and other top-rated institutions have study programs in the communist country.
But trustees rejected the plan, saying the United States has no embassy there, and criticizing the nation's attitudes toward Americans, politics and safety.
"There's no true diplomatic representative," Fortune said. "The liability to their health and safety is real."
Trustees David Lang and Marcia Milchiker voted to support the trip.
As proposed, the trip would have been financed entirely through $2,250-per-student fees and included 10 days in Havana studying culture, history, politics and economics.
It had been approved by the college's Study Abroad Committee and President Dixie Bullock.
Trustees previously approved trips to other communist countries, including the People's Republic of China.
IRVINE WORLD NEWS
Letters to the editor, Feb. 8
Community colleges should promote trips to Cuba
It is with disbelief that we read the reasons South Orange County Community College district trustee Tom Fuentes gave for voting against the students from Saddleback Community College going on a trip to Cuba.
Although we have not yet had the opportunity to travel to Cuba, we have many friends who have been fortunate to make that trip. Some went with the Audubon Society, others with groups of journalists or educators or on a medical mission and some just on their own. Everyone of these friends have had nothing but raves for the country and her people.
One friend, who just returned last November, went on and on about the hospital he visited and the high level of medical care that is offered. One couple had a baseball and a bat and went to a local park to play. Soon they were joined by Cuban children who played baseball with them.
Much to our friends' delight these same children invited them into their parents' home for dinner and to even stay the night.
Mr. Fuentes also produced a report from Rep. Christopher Cox's office that advises caution for U.S. citizens that travel to Cuba. Every Sunday in the Los Angeles Times Travel Section there is a column that lists the countries our government considers unsafe for its citizens to travel and we have yet to see Cuba listed.
The fact that one of the other reasons given by board members is that Fidel Castro made derogatory remarks about President George W. Bush is really ridiculous. Our government is always making such remarks about Fidel Castro.
In closing we both wish to thank board members David Lang and Marsha Milchiker for being open-minded. Ms. Milchiker's comment, "I think building bridges with the people is valuable to do," seems to be what a community college should be promoting.
--Angelo and Marilyn Vassos
LA? No Way?
College district blocks student trips to Los Angeles
OC Weekly, February 9 - 15, 2001
College district blocks student trips to Los Angeles
OC Weekly, February 9 - 15, 2001
by Andrew Tonkovich [aka Red Emma]
Hot on the heels of its recent vote to disallow a student trip to Cuba, South Orange County Community College District (SOCCCD) trustees on Monday night voted to block all student outings to Los Angeles County. "The trustees have serious concerns about allowing district-sponsored travel to Los Angeles," said a district spokesperson. "It’s far away and dangerous. Plus, students might get lost."
In discussion of the recent controversial Cuba vote, trustees cited a report that "Fidel Castro made derogatory remarks about President George W. Bush." Later, in announcing the ban on Los Angeles field trips, conservative members of the board of trustees raised concerns about student health and safety during visits to the nearby metropolis.
"It’s all about protecting our kids," said one.
Recently elected trustee Tom Fuentes voiced concerns that students might not understand compact cars, sidewalks, mass transit or rent control.
"These concerns are not political," said Fuentes, who is Orange County’s longtime Republican Party chairman.
Indeed, some students at the district’s South County community colleges—Saddleback and Irvine Valley—have never visited Los Angeles, which is 50 miles north of Mission Viejo, the district’s administrative headquarters.
"I’ve heard of it," said one Saddleback College student. "Isn’t that, like, where they had the riots?"
Fuentes expressed legal concerns, noting judges in LA County had ruled in several federal suits brought against the SOCCCD, finding that trustees had violated student, faculty and staff rights. "The judges up there are unbelievable," complained Fuentes. "I’m not sure if they even recognize our laws. There may be jurisdictional, even diplomatic issues here. You can bet I’m going to consult with Chris on this one."
Fuentes’ reference to Congressman Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) reflects his close relationship to the author of a widely discredited report on China’s security threat to the U.S. Cox contributed $5,000 to Fuentes’ election campaign, in which he replaced the retiring Steven J. Frogue, the target of two recall attempts.
In explaining the LA travel ban, Fuentes cited Los Angeles as a Democratic Party stronghold. "I understand," he said, "that members of the LA City Council made derogatory remarks about President Bush. Some even suggested that he didn’t win the election and lacked the intellectual capacity to govern!" As the local GOP chieftain, Fuentes introduced then-candidate George W. Bush to audiences across the state. Many speculate that Fuentes expects a position in the Bush administration.
Current district policy allows student visits to maquiladoras in Mexico, sweatshops in Indonesia and public executions in China. Indeed, the board had approved a recent study-abroad trip to the last country, the largest Communist nation in the world. Also, current policies permit students to organize field trips to agricultural fields in Orange County or to any number of restaurants and fast-food retailers employing underpaid and undocumented workers from El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala and even Los Angeles. Some students have inquired about visiting Europe.
"Yes, they are certainly free to go there," said a district spokesperson. "But what for? George Dubya hasn’t been there."
Controversial board member Dorothy Fortune, who in the past has been a beneficiary of homophobic campaign literature, raised the issue of district liability. "If a student acts in any way offensive to the county of Los Angeles, the district would be potentially liable," she said. Asked what behavior this might include, Fortune, a longtime Democrat-turned-Republican, said that sometimes people’s actions can be misinterpreted.
"You know," she said.
Fortune discounted Cuba’s reputation for providing among the highest quality of free public health-care services in the hemisphere. "Oh, sure," she said. "And bring up Canada, too, why don’tcha?"
Meanwhile, a district spokesperson—a different district spokesperson than the one referenced in the first paragraph of this story—denied rumors of a plan to sponsor an Irvine Valley-Saddleback College student tour of Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz led by former board president and Holocaust revisionist Steven Frogue.
"That would just be wrong," said the spokesperson (again, this is the second spokesperson, not the first one). "Wouldn’t it? Well, wouldn’t it?"
Eager to move past the Cuba/LA controversy, trustees took the opportunity to announce their latest comprehensive initiatives, including:
•A program to coordinate critical thinking and reading programs with the Orange, Tustin and Newport-Mesa high school districts, where parents have recently lobbied to ban novels by Ken Kesey, Isabel Allende and David Guterson.
•The launching of a "Straight-Straight Alliance" organization to encourage traditional heterosexual dating among students.
•The Richard M. Nixon "Ethics in Government" certificate program.
--Andrew Tonkovich is an Irvine Valley College instructor.