When Is a Suspension Not a Suspension?
Officials at Southwestern College, a community college outside San Diego, moved Friday to explain why three faculty members have been barred from teaching or stepping foot on the campus for more than a week, but the answers aren't quelling faculty anger.
The college has been facing scrutiny over its action against four professors (one of whom was soon permitted to resume teaching) the day after a student-organized campus protest against budget cuts, and about how the administration has responded to them. While the college didn't explain why it barred the professors -- including the president of the faculty union -- from the campus, officials denied that the move had anything to do with the protest.
On Friday, Angelica L. Suarez, vice president for student affairs at the college, contacted Inside Higher Ed to say that reports on this Web site and elsewhere that professors had been suspended were incorrect. She said that because the professors have not been formally charged with anything or found to have done anything wrong, they can't be suspended, because that would be punishment. She said that barring them from their classrooms (while paying them) isn't a suspension or a punishment.
Suarez also said that -- while the situation had nothing to do with the rally -- the college was investigating incidents that followed the formal rally, when some students walked to the president's office to demand answers to various questions. Campus police officers blocked the protesters from actually reaching the office.
The investigation centers on questions over whether any professors incited the students to continue their rally, whether they showed "disregard" for campus officers and whether they had a "physical confrontation" with the officers. Asked if there was any evidence that anyone at the protest had even touched a police officer, Suarez declined to answer.
The college sent an e-mail to all employees on Friday that also described the situation. Anger has been growing on campus not only over the suspensions, but the lack of clarity over why they were ordered. Suarez said that the decision to take action against the professors was made by the college's president, Raj Chopra, but that he started a vacation the next day and will be out of the country until Nov. 13.
The college's latest action has prompted some college employees who witnessed the really to publish accounts in which they say none of the allegations being investigated are true.
One faculty member, in answer to the information given out by the administration, wrote: "Your hair-splitting pettifogging spin on this series of events is spitting into the wind. Nobody is convinced that you did this for the protection of anyone, except yourselves. And for you administrators to hide behind the fine SWC police department, who were surely just following your orders, is sheer cowardice. Why not admit you haven't a case and immediately reinstate the 'not suspended just-prohibited from doing their job' professors? And then open some REAL action towards solving our problems together?"
Philip Lopez, an English professor who is president of the faculty union and who is one of those being investigated and barred from campus, said that he and his colleagues feel like they are experiencing "something out of Kafka" in that they are being assumed guilty of rules they didn't violate and aren't officially charged with violating.
"It seems like the college believes in trying us by e-mail," he said.
Lopez scoffed at the idea that he and his colleagues haven't been suspended, given what has happened to them.
As to what the college is investigating, he said that there was no contact at all between those protesting and the police officers, and that faculty members followed the students, and didn't lead them. Lopez noted that physically clashing with a police officer would be a crime, and that police officers were present and could have arrested anyone who broke the law, yet they made no arrests.
Anyone who knows the professors, Lopez said, would know that they aren't people who could physically challenge police officers. "The only exercise I get is running off my mouth," he said.