”We know we did wrong, and we admit that. Please don’t be too hard on us.”
That’s how Bill Greulich, a spokesman for Victor Valley Community College, succinctly summarized a brouhaha that’s taken the California campus by storm over the last week. Last Monday, a vice president at the college ordered that a popular Web site -- which is privately owned and operated by students of the college -- be blocked so campus computers couldn't access it.
The site, www.vvchvac.com, is one outlet for students and others to learn about mounting criticism of the college’s president, Pat Spencer. In May, the faculty union, an affiliate of the California Teachers Association, gave her a vote of no confidence, charging that she has mismanaged finances and that she is hostile toward college employees.
Under a picture of the Titanic, site operators have covered various accusations against the embattled president, including references to a multimillion-dollar federal grant collected to serve Hispanic students that some say has not been used. Faculty members have also charged on the site that Spencer terminated Fay Freeman, the former director of instructional compliance and interim president of the college, without board approval, which would be illegal under college bylaws.
Spencer believes that some faculty members are angry because she can't provide them with the kinds of salaries they deserve. In June, she told a local newspaper, The Daily Press, that no one in her administration has acted illegally. Some members of the college’s Board of Trustees remain strong supporters of her leadership.
Observers on the campus say that the blackout gave renewed energy to the critiques of her administration.
“We’ve become kind of a watchdog group for the college,” says Harold Hernandez, a student at Victor Valley majoring in electronic technology, who owns the Web site domain name. “The vote of no confidence really has us getting a lot of hits.” Upwards of 11,000 people have visited the site since June 2005.
“Over the last few months, a lot of what we publish has been negative [toward the administration],” says Hernandez, who also works as a heating and air conditioning repair technician. He feels that the temporary shutdown was a brazen attempt by administrators to try to limit the scope of information provided to students.
The site, which lists campus activities and faculty member contact information, also offers supportive views of Spencer’s leadership.
After the electronic shutdown, it didn’t take long for a plethora of students, faculty members and the local media to quickly cry “censorship.” When Greulich found out about the situation, he says his heart immediately sunk.
“We all know that freedom of speech tops every issue out there,” says Greulich. “I think there was action before thought in this instance.”
The spokesman believes that tensions among faculty members and the administration have taken a toll on morale at the institution. “If I had children, I would not direct them toward a career path as a college president,” he says. “It’s a very difficult job. It’s difficult to make cutbacks while also trying to reward people who are doing a good job.”
After a discussion, administrators quickly reversed course and the Web site was again accessible from all campus computers as of last Wednesday afternoon. Greulich says the vice president who ordered the shutdown will likely get a “slap on the wrist.”
Legal experts have said that the blackout was probably illegal, but Hernandez doesn’t plan on suing the college. “The students and many of the faculty members here are some of the best I’ve ever met,” he says. “We’ve got a lot going for us, and I don’t want to hurt that.”