Monday, February 6, 2012

IVC’s “civility” initiative: "make things nicer!"

Part 4 of a series


     It seems that my attempted “heads up” to the campus community—regarding IVC’s “civility initiative” and the associated “report”—has inspired strong reactions in some quarters.
     Certainly, many readers have reacted strongly. (See Readers have lots to say.)
     And, I learned today, one important player among district governance groups (to whom I sent the report) is—not to put too fine a point on it—hopping mad. Why weren’t they invited to be part of the "Civility workgroup"? WTF!?
     They especially reacted to the following element of the report’s “Statement on Civility and Mutual Respect”:
Supervisors should call attention to uncivil behaviors of persons they supervise, and when necessary, note such behaviors within … the processes of evaluation or progressive discipline. (See Report, attachment 3)
     Golly. I wonder if the faculty members of the workgroup are aware that such language made it into this proposed statement—a statement supposedly inspired by the group’s reflections on Dec. 16?
     And that ain’t all. But I’ll let things unfold in their own time and in their own way.


     As I suggested yesterday, IVC’s “civility initiative” raises some obvious issues—aside from the “representation” problem: not all groups were represented on the “Civility workgroup”—e.g., the Faculty Association, adjuncts, et al.
     Two of the three I mentioned yesterday were (1) that bullying really does occur at IVC and (2) the worry that administration (et al.) might exploit this initiative to pursue policies and other instruments that can be wielded against critics and dissenters.
     Late last week and again today, I walked around campus and spoke with several employees, trying to determine whether and how they see their situation as blighted by bullying.
     I encountered classified employees who communicated a remarkable degree of fear. So great is their fear, they told me, that they are unwilling to participate on committees.
     But who do they fear?
     Let’s just say that they fear very senior administrators. I’ll have more to report about that in future.


     Call me cynical, but I now suspect that powerful people (indeed, bullying people) are indeed planning to use the civility initiative to create instruments to control or silence critics. You might want to go back and read the Report, attachment 4.
     I have a special interest in that sort of thing. As you know, the district has tried to wield policies to silence me before. Back in 1998, a letter was placed in my personnel file according to which I had violated the district’s workplace violence and discrimination policies. Evidently, Raghu Mathur really thought that I was going to drop a “two ton slab of granite” on his head. And my moniker for Mathur—“Mr. Goo”—well, wasn’t that an allusion to “gook”?
     I was ordered to seek anger management counseling.
     I refused. I secured a lawyer (the estimable Carol Sobel) and went to court.
     From the start, jurists (first Judge Manella, then Judge Feess) looked at the facts and saw things just as I did: The district was wielding questionable policies questionably* just to silence a critic. What they were doing to me was nothing short of “Orwellian” (Manella). No reasonable person would be threatened by Bauer’s writings of “slabs” and graphics of crashing Messerschmitts (Feess). No, contrary to the district, Bauer is not the cause of the colleges’ accreditation woes. Yes, Bauer does have a right to offer vigorous criticisms of leadership. Etc.


     At one point, the district’s lawyer noted that I had actually disobeyed an express order! I had been directed by my college president, Raghu Mathur, to embrace niceness and harmoniousness. Yup, that was in a letter I got. And what did I do? Well, I continued publishing the Dissent.
     I had refused to embrace niceness, embracing criticism instead!
     Sound familiar?
     Well, here’s what happened in court**:
MR. LARSEN (the district’s lawyer): …[T]hese are a clear insubordinate violation of a direction that was given in evaluation by the president and an attack upon the president—

THE COURT: You mean a direction of, you know, "Make things nicer"? "Make this atmosphere more harmonious"? Is that the directive that you're talking about?

MR. LARSEN: That's [it] in essence. The directive was to cease being negative and destroying the organization itself through negative comments and the very types of comments that exist here….

THE COURT: Maybe [that directive is] a First Amendment violation in and of itself, to tell [that to] a tenured professor of the college. I mean, look, this is a college campus. If people can't speak their minds on college campuses, I don't know where they can speak their minds. It is supposed to be the bastion of free speech and discussion!
Um, well, yeah!

*Judge Feess judged that these policies were unconstitutional (in themselves) and were unconstitutional "as applied." But in oral arguments, he backed away from declaring one of the policies as unconstitutional (in itself).
**US Central District of California, The Honorable Gary Allen Feess, judge presiding, Los Angeles, CA, Monday, October 25, 1999, 9:46 a.m.

From actual court transcripts: verbatim


Anonymous said...

Well, you'd have to be living under a rock (which I have been) but this recent "civility" discussion penetrated even my rock. As a former senate pres, I always cautioned college/district admin when codes of ethics/civility policies were discussed. It's always about how these overly board statements within the policies will be legally enforced. I've been in State Academic Senate meetings and listened to horror stories about how Academic Senates attempt to enforce overly broad ethics statements. I've been involved in some of the court cases in this district that Roy refers to, where the district simply could not legally enforce their own policies. I can't believe we are doing this again. I hope CSEA and the Faculty Association are involved. I hope CSEA and the Faculty Association have some good attorneys involved in the discussion.
Funny thing, on a personal note, I was thinking in January, it was time to clean my garage and shred the tons of boxes of legal docs related to the tons of court cases against the district. Apparently, I better wait a while before I shred the docs. I only skimmed the proposed draft of the new civility policy and did seven head desks before I couldn't read anymore and I only got through page one. Based on my experience, the proposed policy is so overly broad, it'll end up in court the first time an administrator/supervisor attempts to enforce it. It's time to lawyer up. The district doesn't need a brain trust, it needs a legal trust. In any event, I hope I don't have to represent anybody. Hopefully Carol is still practicing? Good luck with this.

Wendy Gabriella

B. von Traven said...

Much appreciated! I do hope that the district is listening.

Anonymous said...

"You f-ing a-hole. It's that's an assault than the courts would be overflowing."

I love the judge. I love the movie. I love the music.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that little video is wonderful!

Anonymous said...

Wendy, please don't toss your legal papers. There are overt acts of discrimination and harrassment going on daily. Are you taking clients?

Anonymous said...

We need a new Senate Prez. Wendy are you open to the idea?

Anonymous said...

We can nominate her, right?

Anonymous said...

WHO suggested that "hearts" should be used rather than bullet points? Were they serious? This would be funnier if what it revealed wasn't so awful. The more I read it, the worse it gets.

Anonymous said...

Wendy, don't shred them docs! Put 'em into storage! Thanks for your great insight & legal wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Hey there,
Sorry, I can't be senate prez now because I'm over 50. I think almost half our faculty now are "new" and it may be time for some of the newer faculty to step up and learn the ropes. I'd be happy to help them.
I'm really enjoying being a full-time faculty member, engaging with my students, developing lectures, getting essays graded on time, and keeping up with new developments in anthro. It's a great job. No wonder I went into teaching! I knew more at 20-something.
I won't shred the boxes of legal docs just yet but I was really looking forward to it. I'm hopeful that the Civility Work Group will reconsider the policy and there will be an in-depth and widespread discussion as to whether it is wise to go down this path (again). I'm hopeful the Academic Senate representatives will encourage further deliberation with regards to the policy. I'm really hopeful that after such a discussion, wisdom will prevail and we avoid a legal train wreck (again). Of course, I've been living under a cabbage patch leaf (to use a phrase from a colleague) where everything is always sunny, the flowers are always blooming, there is shrimp on the bbq, a nice creamy Bodingtons to wash it down, tikki torches, and Reggae on Pandora. I don't want to dust off the legal docs. I am wondering, however, what was EC thinking? It would be interesting to chat with him and get his perspective as to the constitutionality of this Civility Policy.

We can work this out?


Anonymous said...

Yes, I was wondering the same thing about EC. Wouldn't he've offered caveats along the way? Or provided some kind of legal framework to work within? Just what exactly was his function there?

I wonder if any faculty or staff participants could answer these questions for us?

Anonymous said...

Aw comon Wendy, you don't look a day over 25!

B. von Traven said...

Look at attachment 1 of the report. There, the following is attributed to Dean Chemerinsky: "Responding to speech you don’t like with more speech.” That's a standard saying among civil libertarians and defenders of free speech. Not stifle "obnoxious" speech; respond to it with arguments, etc.

Anonymous said...

Bvt, thanks for speaking about this issue to the senate. I hope the VPI will be listening. Doubtful, since he is incapable of seeing another side to any argument.

BOOM! Thanks to NYT, the Trump saga enters a new and darker phase, starting tomorrow

Why muddy a clear message of a nation in danger? From the Start, Trump Has Muddied a Clear Message: Putin Interfered  (NYT) By DA...