FIRE sent a letter yesterday to Superintendent/President Raj K. Chopra of California’s Southwestern College (SWC) over the college’s decision to ban three professors from campus after they did nothing more than join a group of students who were peacefully protesting against recent financial decisions by the college. FIRE has also received reports that campus police have been used to intimidate SWC faculty members and students and that students are being declared guilty of offenses for exercising their constitutional rights on campus. Finally, our letter takes SWC to task for maintaining an absurdly small “free speech zone” as well as an unconstitutional “Freedom of Expression” policy.
The basic facts of the case are appalling. According to eyewitnesses who have described the events both to FIRE and to the press, a group of students and faculty assembled on October 22 in SWC’s “free speech area” to protest various actions of the college. One of the students then said, “Let’s go where they can hear us,” at which point some students went to the location of President Chopra’s office. The group was met by campus police officers and was prevented from speaking to Chopra. Three faculty members were with the group of students for different amounts of time during the students’ conversation with the police officers, and they left separately.
Later that evening, the three professors were hand-delivered letters signed by Chopra at their off-campus homes, informing them that they were banned from campus due to an unspecified “matter” and were not even permitted to use campus e-mail or other resources. Just as chillingly, according to other reports, campus police officers have recently been attending peaceful gatherings of students and faculty, and students involved in such meetings and protests have been summoned to the president’s office. No reason immediately presents itself for such treatment of SWC community members other than the administration’s desire to restrict and discourage any views critical of SWC. A culture of fear, retribution, and intimidation has taken shape on SWC’s campus.
Thankfully, we at FIRE are not the only ones concerned about the college’s behavior. The case and our letter to Superintendent/President Chopra have been covered across the blogosphere, starting with The Writer’s Washroom, which has an excellent roundup of the television, radio, and print coverage of the case. Dissent the Blog has picked up our letter to SWC. Perhaps most poignant is Save Our Southwestern College, a blog maintained by concerned SWC students, faculty, and other members of the campus community. It is a great resource for those wishing to read up on this case, and it provides timely updates.
I highly encourage readers to read more about this case. Through the vigilance and efforts of concerned individuals and FIRE, I am confident that justice will prevail at Southwestern College.